History

Lost in Translation

It’s well known that a fair proportion of theological argument have their origins in disputable translations of ur-texts. Take the New Testament for example – all sorts of things could go wrong between Greek and English and often did. People are still arguing about them today. That’s not to mention the other ancient languages in which the Gospels were written or translated, and which introduce their own particular interpretive problems.

Imagine the same scope for argument in a famous secular text. Imagine it’s a left wing text. Imagine it’s a billion seller.

“A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism”

A strong opening to the Communist Manifesto anyone will agree – it’s visually interesting, intriguing, contains a hint of menace and a statement of internationalism. Not bad for the first nine words. It makes you want to read on.

Actually that’s the English translation – the original German – as anyone who has been paying attention to this site recently will be able confirm – reads like this:

“Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa – das Gespenst des Kommunismus”

According to today’s Scotsman these words nearly had a very different – and hilarious – interpretation.

In the mid Nineteenth Century a Burnley-dwelling Scotswoman befriended Fred Engels and got the job of translating the famous co-authored pamphlet. Here’s her first attempt at interpreting the first line:

“A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost, the ghost of Communism.”

Frightful Hobgoblin ? Gimme a break. Who wants to be a member of a political movement made up of short twisty-faced trolls ? On second thoughts maybe it’s best not to answer that.

Anyway, you can see why they went with the later version.

Update: Norm joins the fun.

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