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Does the cut worm really forgive the plough?
on 8 March 2015
This is a good book if you’re willing to slog through it, and it’s instructive to read the piece on Milton, without whom we wouldn’t have words such as terrific, stunning, loquacious, Satanic, exhilarating, lovelorn and strangely enough cooking. “And because he was a Puritan, he invented words for all the fun things of which he disapproved. Without dear old Milton we would have no debauchery, no depravity, no extravagance, in fact nothing enjoyable at all,” says Forsyth. The tone of the above tells you, no doubt, that this book doesn’t have a serious delivery. I’m all for levity in it’s place, but much of this is simply matey, It’s as if you’re reading someone’s blog a lot of the time, which in point of fact you may be, as Forsyth is a blogger, otherwise known as ‘The Inky Fool’ - though he says that the majority of the book is not drawn from blogging extracts.
Nevertheless, he is interesting on the derivation of our different languages, as he is about translations from the bible. For instance, this:
“The strange children shall fail and be afraid out of their prisons.”
This, as Forsyth tells us, is from a Psalter that is still used in Church of England services today. It is, though wrongly translated by a man called Coverdale and should read as follows: “The foreign-born shall obey; and come trembling from their strongholds.”
But the best of Coverdale’s mistranslations is about Joseph whose neck, we are told in Psalm 105, was bound in iron. The problem is that Hebrew uses the same word for neck as it does for soul. The word is nefesh, and it usually means neck or throat, but it can mean breath and it can also mean soul, because the soul is the breath of life. This all got mixed up together and produced the wonderful phrase “The iron entered into his soul.” Forsyth tells us, “Nobody cared that it was a mistranslation.” The inventiveness of language is supreme, although, my feeling about this book is that you may need to be a word fetishist to really enjoy it.