TRANSLATING NEW ENGLAND IDIOMS AND THE HEBREW BIBLE

By Dave Reese

What does a Rhode Island idiom have to do with the Bible? Actually, a lot. The question “Would you like a cabinet?” does not refer to a wooden box with doors; it is a milkshake. Since it is made by a blender that is normally stored in a cabinet–the ice cream and milk blend is called a “cabinet.”

The language phenomenon is a metalepsis or a metonomy and it is a natural result of all language development and richness; the English language excels in the formation of the figures. In many cases, like this in the Northeastern US, a variety of idioms are developed in one region that do not exist in another region although both regions speak the same language.

Another metalepsis example is the British English “He drank his house”. It means he sold his house, plus he drank the drink he bought with the house income. We put house, money, then drinking the liquid to represent the whole process!

Look at Ecclesiastes 12:5.

“Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:” (Ecclesiastes 12:5 KJV)

Notice the phrase. “and desire shall fail:” Literally, the Hebrew text is “the caper-berry shall fail.”

The Revised Version of 1881 reads: “and the caper-berry shall fail”

The New American Standard Bible (1965) reads: “and the caperberry is ineffective.”

It is easy to see above that both the RSV and the NASV translated the Hebrew, literally. The translation conveys no meaning and is simpleton activity. Just as the Texas visitor to Rhode Island would sit and blink when asked if he would like “a cabinet”, the Bible reader wonders what in the world does “caper-berry shall fail” mean. Correct translation is not word for word in such cases because there are language idioms which carry meanings deeper than the surface phrase. The sense of the language must be translated or else there is nonsense. Accurate translation demands that, as much as possible, the target translation must convey the same understanding to its reader that it conveyed to the reader of the source language. This requires accurate knowledge of both the source language (in this case Hebrew) and target language (English) including the idioms and all figures of speech.

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