By Michael DEAD LANGUAGE
THERE comes hack out of the past the picture of a small boy laboriously translating At pins -4rnvils into " But the pious Aeneas." One of the Superior Minds —evidently really superior to most of them—looks over the passage and remarks caustically caustically that pies does not mean "pious." The small boy grudgingly crosses out the fruits of his labour, looks up Phis in the dictionary, finds another word and inserts it in his copy. The Superior Mind is satisfied and the schoolboy, schoolboy-like, dismisses the episode from his mind so effectively that it stays out of his mind for more than thirty years.
In that interval, however, he heard many timings that would have shocked that Superior Mind. He heard of the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross and learnt, after some research, that it does not commemorate any inventiveness on the part of early relichunters but is an echo of the 1.atin word Ntrenfin, which means " finding." lie heard of the Decollation of St. Jelin thc Baptist and learnt that it has nothing to do with depriving hisn of 3 light meal, but simply aa e the loss of
A transliteration, by the way, is not a translation, which gives the meaning of a word, but only a copy, which reproduces its letters. It may, therefore, acquire aim entirely new meaning of its own. That is why you may think yourself fortunate when a transliteration has fallen out of general use altogether, as is the case with the "Seven Dolours" a phrase which, when not pronounced like $7, can be defended on the grounds that, even if it now means nothing, at least it means nothing erroneous.
This cannot he said of "Mother most amiable," which is a slightly ridiculous transliteration of another French word, winch should have bccn translated " lovable." It is not true of the feehle "Mother most admirable," or of the much worse " Singular Vessel of devotion." The Latin remains untranslated by either of them, though in the case of the former a magnificent English emavalent is available in " wonderful." And the schoolboy's troubles over pins might well have been recalled by the constant repetition of the request to be aided by our Lady's "pious supplication."
Coming to matters philosophical and theological, the erstwhile schoolboy, after making play with meanings of " charity " that could never have been attached to caritas, found that all is not well with " prudence " when it is meant to represent prudentia. For prudentia in the philosophy of the Schools is the queen of the practical virtues and means something very much like " wisdom about things to be done," while "prudence " has conic to mean little mare than " caution," particularly in money matters, and easily gives birth to " Prudential." It is as if sap-Venal were commonly represented by " sapience " instead of by " wisdom"; and as when irsletter.tti..1 becomes " intellect " in5icail sdejsi intelligence," e ,a,,n\dyi tihn fiebfeeteae:. awful (b)efco"nuien
result that it gives birth to " the intelligentzia."
But the greatest shock of all was to find that, whereas in current E'nglish " immaterial " means "of no account," and what is "material" matters, teelenate might be applied by St. Thomas Aquinas to something quite uunichntm!rpioarietanv.t.,,a s and thought ofoaf anything h ispiritualng ilgl and eternal. But even "spiritual" is not a safe word, fur when the "modern mind" wants to retain as a sop 'to the emotions some truth that it has persuaded itself is untrue, it damns it with faint praise by calling it "a truth in hue spiritual order." As for " supernatural," that deserves a chapter to itself.
What, then, has been happening that all theee words have conic to mean the wrong thing? As regards the transliterations from the Latin, these were in must cases made when the Latin, with all its richness of meaning, was so familiar that the transliteration meant what the Latin meant. But, after they were made, the transliteennens wer cut otT from their sources ind bandie( about by theologians and philosophers and common men who neither knew nor eared for the traditional meaning of the Latin and moreover had different ideas which they expressed in the orphaned terms. And in such a case as that of " immaterial " and fmmuteorvitterfe. the change represents a complete turning of the scale of values of a whole community.
Such changes are indeed landmaiks in history and might be a mine of instruction to teachers. But the topic is one of far more ellen academic intereet. Few of those upon Si hom early devotional experience or scininary training have impressed those misleading or absurd transliterations can realize the hindrance that they present, both emotionally and intellectually, to those to whom they are strange. Indeed. there are moments at which we would are obliged to learn Latin. For that, at leant, is still a livine,. language,