‘The Bells’

In 1849, the American poet Edgar Allan Poe died and his poem ‘The Bells’ was published.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Russian poet and translator Konstantin Balmont “very freely” translated it into Russian.

In 1913, the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote a setting for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra, originally titled (in Russian) Колокола, Kolokola (Russian WikipediaEnglish Wikipedia).

Some years ago (first guess 2001-2003) I bought a CD of this work. The booklet calls Balmont’s translation “more precisely, a re-interpretation” and includes his text transliterated into the Latin/‘English’ alphabet and translated into German, English and French. Whether the unnamed translator was equally free in translating Balmont’s Russian back into English or not, the result is very different from Poe’s original. Continue reading



Today’s psalm began “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion” (Psalm 126, KJV).

English has three pairs of words which have two alternative forms: amid/amidst, among/amongst and while/whilst. The shorter forms are used more often, and are recommended in most style guides, whilst the longer is very rare in American English and rare even in British English, where it has a formal or even archaic flavour (see what I did there?).

Again and against started the same way, but developed different meanings. Using a different translation, we might say “When the Lord turned against the fortunes of Zion” but that would have the opposite meaning. Turning again might be positive or negative (more likely positive, as here), but turning against is always negative.

The same psalm later uses among, where amongst is possible: “Then said they among(st) the heathen”. Of the I don’t know how many translations on Bible Gateway, most use among, and none uses amongst. (Modern translations also use nations rather than heathen.)

If you have a choice, use amid, among and while, unless you are deliberately aiming for formality, and be careful of the difference between again and against.

Benedetto Ingombranteinfornata

Various articles (for example) have been written as to why the name Benedict Cumberbatch can survive being transformed into Bandersnatch Cummerbund, Bandycoot Cumbersnatch, Bendandsnap Candycrush and more.

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a link to a series of photos rendering famous actors’ names into (supposed) Italian, sometimes based on sound and sometimes on meaning (which I didn’t bookmark, so I can’t link to. Seek and you will find). Among them is Benedetto Ingombranteinfornata. Say what? Google Translate doesn’t recognise Ingombranteinfornata, instead suggesting Ingombrante infornata, which it translates as bulky goods. Ingombrante by itself is cumbersome and infornata is batch. Continue reading


In the last week I have learned, via social media, of the deaths of three older men who I met earlier in my life through my involvement in music in two different cities as I moved around – a cathedral organist/choir director/university lecturer, a pipe organ builder and a stalwart of the local music theatre company. I knew them well enough to remember them and to want to express my condolences, but not well enough to keep in contact with them as I moved around (though I did bump into one on one visit to that city). I left messages on the Facebook pages of their closest family member (two of whom I knew as well or better, and one of whom I only saw around and never actually spoke to, so I explained who I was). One replied briefly and the other two “hearted” my comment

The English phrase Rest in peace is often used in this context. This conveniently shares initials with the Latin phrase Requiescat in pace, but there’s a difference. Requiescat is subjunctive, and is better (and sometimes, maybe often or even usually) translated May (s/he) rest in piece. Rest by itself is imperative, so Rest in peace is Requiesce in pace (singular) or Requiescite in pace (plural). The plural of Requiescat in pace is Requiescant in pace. All of these are derived from the noun requies, which is best known in its accusative form requiem (as in Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine, Grant them eternal rest, Lord. Requies, in turn, means re + quies, or quiet again.

So, Requiescite in pace David, Peter and Peter, though I’m not sure if “quiet” is an appropriate wish for an organist, organ builder and singer. I like to imagine them getting together somewhere and making a joyful noise.

In fact, rechecking those three Facebook pages, I have just learned of the death a few months ago of another musical acquaintance, so Requiesce in pace Mary as well. I may have to stop reading Facebook.

(Most of the Latin from Wikitionary.)

Harry Potter and the Overworked Translator

A few days ago the topic in the textbook was books, especially translating books between languages. Most of the students I’ve ever taught read very few books, and this class was no exception. Some of them had read books in English. I asked about Harry Potter, probably the most famous set of novels in English in the recent past, and available in many languages. Some had read at least some of the books either in their language or English, but not both. I asked about the titles. The first book is usually either ‘magic stone’ or ‘magician’s stone’, but the Korean word translates as ‘wizard’. The Nepalese students conferred, then said ‘shining stone’. Continue reading

gugak and gagaku

Many years ago, possibly before I went to Korean the first time, I came across a reference to gugak, or Korean traditional music. In the Korea the first time, I saw and heard various performances of traditional music, but did not encounter the word. In Korea the second time, I wandered around the regional city I was living in on various occasions. One day, I saw a museum of traditional arts and crafts. I had always thought that gugak was gu+gak, but the hangeul at the museum read 국악 or gukak. (One advantage of hangeul is that it tells you where the syllables are.) Guk by itself means (among other things) nation (most often found in words like 대한민국 (dae-han-min-guk, the official name of the Republic of Korea), 한국 (han-guk, the short name) and 외국 (oi-guk [way-guk], any foreign country). Ak by itself is related to 음악 (eum-ak, the general word for music) (which I incorporated into my Korean name, which I rarely use). So gugak is literally “national music” (국가 음악).

Last night I came across a reference to gagaku, or the classical music of Japan. Are the words gugak and gagaku related? Possibly, but after some research this morning, it’s impossible to be sure, working across Chinese characters, Japanese kanji, hangeul, pronunciation, transliteration and translation of all three language into English, and dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Gagaku is 雅楽, literally “elegant music”. The syllabification seems to be ga+gaku, because there is a related word bugaku, or “dance music”. Gugak includes court music, folk music, poetic songs, and religious music used in shamanistic and Buddhist traditions. Gagaku is primarily court music and dances, but also Shinto religious music and folk songs and dance. Continue reading

MeToo, 미투, 나도

A few days ago, my wife mentioned the #MeToo movement. Not surprisingly, stories are emerging in the Korean entertainment industry. I asked her whether Korean women and news media use MeToo or 미투 (mi-tu, that is, transliterating the English into hangeul) or 나도 (na-do, that is, translating the English into Korean). Because her linguistic meta-language in English is limited and mine in Korean is non-existent, I don’t think she fully understood my question and I know I didn’t fully understand her answer.

She found an instance of 미투 캠페인 (mi-too kaem-pe-in) and asked me whether it was a campaign or a movement (which I’ll get back to in a moment). Otherwise, I have found online references to 미투 and 나도, and to 캠페인 and 운동 (un-dong). English Wikipedia’s page lists 나도당했다 (na-do dang-haet-da) and Korean Wikipedia’s page is titled 미투 운동. 운동 is usually translated ‘exercise’, but can also mean movement, motion, campaign, locomotion, effort, manoeuvre/maneuver (Google Translate). 당했다 is the past tense of suffer, so the Korean might be translated ‘I too suffered’. (Different dictionaries and translators give wildly different translations, which I won’t list. Suffer seems to be the best one. It hasn’t been in any of my Korean textbooks yet.) Currently, 미투 운동 gets about 3 millions results and 나도당했다 about 4 million.

So is it a campaign or a movement? Certainly in English, it is called a movement. To me, a campaign is more organised. Dictionary.com defines a movement as ‘a series of actions or activities intended or tending toward a particular end’ and a campaign as ‘a systematic course of aggressive activities for some specific purpose’.