Sketches in ink – 42

I learned a new word today. This is not unusual for a translator. This is not unusual for anyone who reads, for that matter.

The word, as arbitrary as any other, looks harmless on the face of it: metanoia (from the Greek μετάνοια deary, in case your education in this ancient tongue is as sketchy as mine and Shakepeare’s both).

My translation today gave me a simple definition, It said that metanoia means “changing one’s mentality”. The “meta” bit, I get. (Don’t we all?) It was the “noia” part that got me, as I whizzed off to the village in my little car on a couple of minor chores when the main part of my day’s work was done. It got me, because nowhere in that pretty little head of mine could I fix  this word fragment to anything similar.

Fine, I thought, I shall look it up properly when I get home.

Now, why did I have to go and do that? It turns out that the theological world has been in a furore ever since the translation of the Bible commissioned by King James VI and I (one and the same guy, fyi) in 1604 and published in 1611.

Despite the generous deadline by today’s standards for these 783,137 English target words , it would appear that a crucial one was mistranslated according to several notable scholars. Yes, that’s right. The mistranslated word was “metanoia”.

(A minor digression, also for your information: I talk to Google as if it is a very knowledgeable friend. I got my answer on the number of words in the text referenced above by typing the following in the search bar: How many words are there in the King James Version of the Bible? It took less than 20 seconds to get my answer and shove it into that pretty little head of mine. Technology’s brilliant, innit?)

The short version, for those of you who start losing interest in a text longer than the 300-odd words here so far, is this: John the Baptist was not calling humankind to repent – as so many of us have been told – but to change mental attitudes. That, to me, represents a need to make a fundamental shift in focus in that part of my being devoted to matters biblical. If you are interested, you can read all about it in Wikipedia here. There was also an almighty hullaballoo with the Greek to Latin translation of this term. An ill-fated word, if you ask me.

Might one call this a translation disaster of biblical proportions, I wonder?

The –noia bit comes from the Greek word nous, meaning “mind” – but not mind, as in “mind your step”, although of course minding one’s step as one translates is probably sound advice if you want to avoid landing directly in the —.

Stray thought: paranoia is another English word with a –noia bit.

Before I go skittering off on another tangent, I think it is safe to say that the pillars supporting the arches pictured in my photo of the old pumphouse inaugurated in 1867 in Chatham-Medway (near Rochester, UK) are not Greek, but do serve to illustrate the concept of perspective.

©2015, Allison Wright

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