rest eternal and light perpetual

When I was drafting my previous post, I realised that I wasn’t sure about the exact wording of the funeral/memorial sentence Rest eternal rest grant (unto) them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine (up)on them.

The Latin original is Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Latin adjectives standardly follow the noun they modify (though word order in Latin is relatively free), so requiem (rest) aeternum (eternal) and lux (light) perpetua (perpetual). I searched online for an English translation. About half said rest eternal and light perpetual, and half said eternal rest and perpetual light. English adjectives standardly precede the noun they modify, but can follow them in certain circumstances, one of which is to produce an air of formality, perhaps because of the echo of Latin. (From a brief browse, no source switches word order mid-way: rest eternal and perpetual light or eternal rest and light perpetual.)

I noticed that the sources which use rest eternal and light perpetual tend to be Anglican/Episcopalian, and those which use eternal rest and perpetual light tend to be Roman Catholic. In fact, the Wikipedia article about this prayer says that Lutherans use the noun-adj order and Methodists use the adj-noun. I’m not sure what conclusion, if any, we can draw from that.

One of the many choral settings of the Latin.

Mike Klitschko, The Cock Prohibited and The Icy Python

For a few days now, various contributors to Language Log have been exploring the fact that repeatedly typing one letter, character or syllable, or even a string of random letters, characters or syllables, into Google Translate results in ‘translations’ which a) have nothing to do with those letters, characters or syllables and b) are sometimes funny, baffling or seemingly meaningful. In the first such post, Mark Liberman reported that Japanese ュース (which Google Translate translates as juice) entered repeatedly eventually results in:

It is a good thing for you to do.
It is good to know the things you do not do.
It is good to know the things you do not mind.
It is a good idea to have a good view of the surrounding area.

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Just before I woke up this morning, I had a long, vivid, fragmented dream. In the last scene, ‘dream I’ was standing in a licenced club next to a man who was looking at the front cover of a gambling magazine, featuring a photo of an apparent famous professional gambler. The man said ‘I want to study his – mercy’ (obviously not sure about the last word). ‘Dream I’ said ‘The word you want is mertique’, at which point I woke up.

‘Real I’ lay there befuddled, trying to decide whether mertique was a real but very rare word, with the meaning ‘another word for technique, most often used about sales staff and gamblers’ or whether my sub-conscious had simply made it up, and if so, why?

After some time, I came downstairs, searched (my default resource) and got no result. I did a general Google search and got ‘About 1,460 results’, including user names on various social media, business names (Mertique Spa), ‘sirloin mertique’ and sentences which look like Latin (one of which turns out to be a mis-OCR-ing of ‘mortique’ (morti(s)+que is identifiably Latin)). Setting Google Translate to ‘detect language’ detects Latin, but then translates it as mertique. None of which explains why my sub-conscious brain chose to use it.

Mertique could be an English word – it fits the sounds and syllable patterns. But apparently it’s not.

Musical terrorism

The famous anthem Sing Joyfully, by William Byrd (c1540-1623), sets four verses of Psalm 81, one of which starts ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moon’. The lesser-known setting by Adrian Batten (c1591-c1637), which we sang yesterday morning, uses a different translation, and that verse starts ‘Blow up the trumpet in the new moon’. That sounds excessive, even for a brass instrument.

Singing fail

I invented a new English diphthong in choir practice this morning. We were rehearsing Psalm 15, which lists some good behaviour which a good person does, and some bad behaviour which a good person doesn’t. The last verse is: ‘Whoso doeth these things shall never fall’. (For some reason, we were singing the translation of the Psalms by Miles Coverdale in 1538, as included in the Book of Common Prayer 1662.) At the rehearsal yesterday, someone sang fail, which makes sense in terms of both pronunciation and meaning. I made made a mental note to sing fall, but at the rehearsal this morning sang fail then changed mid-vowel to fall, thus singing /feɪɔl/ (is that actually a triphthong?). I was standing right in the centre of the choir, and the conductor was looking straight at me, so there was no place to hide. I wrote fall in very big letters on the page, and in the service sang it correctly. (I decided that if I sang fail in the service, I would stay on it – 31 other singers and an organist would have drowned me out.)

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Mary’s Boy Child

My first exposure to a non-standard variety of English was probably the Christmas song Mary’s Boy Child. One of my grandmothers had the sheet music and various members of the family sang it in various combinations when we visited at Christmas.

I vaguely remember vaguely thinking, ‘oh, this is different English’, not ‘oh, this is bad English’. Researching for this post, I found that Jester Hairston was born in a rural community in North Carolina, but grew up in Pittsburgh and later studied at Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston) and the Juilliard School (Manhattan, New York). An obituary in the Los Angeles Times refers to his Boston accent, which he had to ‘lose’ for (stereotypically Black, at the time) radio and tv roles.

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