* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Once upon a time, I actually believed I knew enough Italian to read and understand Latin.


I've learned a lot since then.  For example, I actually know Italian better now than I did then (funny how this works) and for it quite pointedly realize that I actually know precisely jack squat about Latin.  And how stupid was I?  That opening sentence is like me saying I know how to fly an airplane because I've got my Boy Scouts merit badge for small boat sailing.

Despite the disillusionment, I bought what follows below.  It is the only book I own that I cannot read.  I bought it a long time ago and for no reason other than I thought it was cool.  And really, can you deny the utter coolness of How the Grinch Stole Christmas in freaking Latin?  (I mean, *!*)  There's something intrinsically fascinating--which, of course, and if we're speaking at least circumferentially of translation, is Geek for "cool" --about your favorite, or at least most nostalgic, books and/or other media in another language--and allthemoreso (yes, one word) a dead language?  Maybe it's just me....  But I can't help myself.  Languages are, well, cool.  And I have a number of my favorite books in Italian, a couple in Hebrew (despite the fact that I read Hebrew only slight less badly than Latin), and a few in French as well (which, despite my once-prejudice for the language and its mother country, is a lot closer to Italian than Latin).  I take them down periodically and flip through them.  Most of them I've even read once or twice--and even cover-to-cover--but it's not the reading, but the having, that is just awesome.  I mean, imagine this: owning and displaying copies of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in Darug or The Lord of the Rings in Wamo!  Cool!

And even cooler: to be able to read those languages and analyze the intrinsic problems and inevitable interpretive shifts due to the semiotic transition....

(Okay, I'll stop.)

So, my recommendation (recommendation, after all, being the very object this feature is intended to feature)?  Indulge yourself in a specious interlinguistic adventure, and find a book you love in a language you don't know or have even before heard of, wait eagerly for it to arrive in the mail, then minutes after delivery quietly post the new treasure (and just touch it, hold it: feel its electricity pulse through its skin!) somewhere inconspicuous, yet available to examining eyes, and (do you feel it?) quite simply make yourself look just that much smarter than you really are (it's like a magic diet pill!) simply by having it, which, heck, when it comes right down to it isn't that great a stretch; owning a book written in a dead language does in very fact make you smarter.  Like Mozart.

Anyway, merry Christmas, everyone!


  1. Sorry to state the obvious, but:


    It's funny that you bring this up because today we were driving to Detroit, and I decided to open my Brothers Grimm fairy tales on my Nook, and I read a fairy tale that we had read in German class: "Die Sieben Raben" or "The Seven Ravens". And it's really a pretty literal translation except for two things that I caught in my quick glance through. One, they translate the title as "The Seven Crows", and two, in the original German, the little girl CUTS OFF her finger in order to use the bone as a key. In the milder English version, she bends her finger to use it as a key.

  2. And I'll bet your milder English version is a more modern version. The cool thing about so many of those stories is that they existed simultaneously in many languages across Europe, and even into the Middle East and North Africa; nearly universally they are brutal, especially as most are cautionary. As caution became less of a requirement, the stories were maintained not as pedantic, but as diversion. Dig a little deeper, and I'll bet you'll find a written account of The Three Ravens/Crows that is plenty gruesome. I can't say for sure, though; I'm not familiar with this one....

  3. Does your Seuss translation preserve the rhyme scheme? I couldn't be sure from the image you posted. There are a few books I've read so many times I can almost recite them. I may acquire them in It/Fr/Gr to bone up. What I'd really like to learn is Kurdish, so that Aryan and I can have conspicuous, yet secret conversations. Especially about people in our vicinity. I remember your story about a similar thing you encountered in Italy, talking about a guy walking ahead of you who actually turned out to speak English and asked you for directions or something? Still cracks me up.

  4. Yeah, I would guess it is. The odd thing is that (now of course I didn't have the German copy directly in front of me), it really seemed like a literal, almost word-for-word translation most of the time, other than the finger. Is it possible B&N changed it? Maybe, but I doubt it. But for one example, and there are much better ones, of how close the translation was, German uses the word that translates to "maiden" for girl, and that's the word that they used in the translation.

    Devin: The nice thing is that Seuss makes up words half the time, so you can just make up a ridiculous rhyming word in Latin, and it essentially has the same meaning. I hope that's what they did.

  5. It appears that the translator was less interested in rhyme and meter than, I guess, accuracy of intent?

    Is The Three Crows originally specific to Germany? Interesting to me that it would be a word-for-word translation in the first place. Generally the B&N editions are pretty unapologetic; I wonder where the change dates to to?

  6. Devin: as likely wrong a thing as it is, it is absolutely tremendous fun talking about people loudly and conspicuously in another language, even at risk of being caught. Of course, that is an advantage of speaking a dead language, or one so uncommon around Michigan or Utah or anywhere in the US, for that matter, as Kurdish. Let me know if you find a good dictionary and grammar book!

  7. Well, here's the thing about the story. The Brothers set out to collect a bunch of quintessentially German stories, but actually a lot of them are from different cultures, so they just called them German. However, my B&N edition is a collection of the Brothers Grimm stories, so I imagine it's a fairly literal translation of THEIR tellings of the story at least.

  8. There are other fairytale chroniclers. See if any of these have reported a version of the same story:

    Charles Perrault (probably my favorite),
    Jeanne-Marie Leprince Beaumont,
    Hans Christian Anderson did quite a lot,
    and Joseph Jacobs.

    There are others as well. There's a great source, too (I haven't look for this one there), called http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/ ; I've found quite a lot here in the past.


Be sure to subscribe to the thread to receive discussion updates.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...