Episode 39: Not Lost in Translation

The early Christian Church in Britain gradually embraced English as a way to spread to the message of the Church to the masses.  This required the translation of Christian words and concepts from Latin into English.   In this episode, we explore how English was used to represent the new religious ideas which were rapidly expanding across Britain.  We also explore the many words and phrases which originated from this process and which still exist in Modern English. Check out the ‘Texts’ tab for the written version of Caedmon’s Hymn and the Ruthwell Cross inscription discussed in this episode.


19 thoughts on “Episode 39: Not Lost in Translation

  1. Dear Kevin.

    Since I first encountered your podcast about a month ago, I listen to it almost daily. It is fascinating.

    I’m a native Russian speaker, and my primary language from the age of 8 is Hebrew. Whenever you talk about the connections between the Indo-European languages, I look for equivalents in the Russian vocabulary. It is very exciting to find them.

    In this episode you mentioned the word hloaf. Russian for bread is khleb, хлеб.

    You also discussed the word whole and it’s orgin in the Indo-European word kailo. Well, in Russian whole is tselyi, целый. I never would have thought these two words in English and Russian could be related.

    Lastly, you discussed in earlier chapters the word ghasti in the proto Indo-European language. You said it meant both “to be a guest” and “to be the host” .
    The word gosti, гости, still has this double meaning in Russian. When you go to someone you are going в гости, literally to guests. And of course you can be a guest as a гость.
    Host is khozyain, хозяин, by the way. It also means the master of the house and an owner of something. Could it also be related?

    Ever since I’ve learned Hebrew as a child, I was always making this funny mistake. I would say “we are going to guests” (אנחנו הולכים לאורחים). This does not work neither in Hebrew nor in English, but it does in Russian.

    Thank you very much for your incredible work,

    • To clarify the last part.
      Gosti, гости, in Russian is at the same time someone’s house that you are visiting at, and the plural form of guest.

    • Hi Daria,

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. The word gosti, гости, is definitely derived from the same PIE root (*ghosti) that produced the English words “guest” and “host.” I can’t find any evidence that khozyain, хозяин, is cognate, but I have very limited sources for Russian words.

      • From what I can gather, khozyain (хозяин) came to the language through Ottoman Turkish which in turn got it from the Persians, but its etymology beyond that remains unclear; in this way, it could be cognate but probably isn’t.

    • Hi Daria,

      Приятно видеть fellow Russian в комментариях 🙂 The fun part with хлеб is that it is actually considered to be borrowed by the Proto-Slavs from Proto-German, which is a pretty rare case.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful podcast. About the word ‘dray’, from ‘dreugge’ (apologies for spelling!) which has disappeared from the English language and come back through the Normans as ‘drudge’; Is it related to ‘dray’ (as in ´dray-horse’) which OED says is from a word which means ‘to draw’? Many, many thanks.

  3. Hi! Loving you podcast. I was wondering if you could spell out the indoeuropean word for undiminished. The one that, much later, lead to the term “holy”

  4. Hey Kevin,
    Re: The Dream of the Rood.

    I recently came across the word rood in an English version of the Illiad translated by Samuel Butler. I had to google it because it was used in the context of land measurements (1/4 acre, apparently).

    Are these two words related in any way?

    P.S. Love the podcast, this is my second listening of it since I caught up to the present last fall.

    • Yes, the word “rood” as a cross and as a land measurement are derived from the same root. The original word meant a pole, and specific kinds of poles were used to create crosses and were used as a measurement tool. By the way, the word “rood” as a land measurement tool still survives as the word “rod” which is used in some older deeds to mark the boundaries of a large tract of land. As a young attorney, I did many real estate title searches, and I routinely came across legal descriptions in older deeds which measured the boundaries in “rods.”

  5. My husband and I are binge listening to your podcast and loving it. Epiphany at our church celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, not baptism of Jesus. So I looked it up, and sure enough, some traditions also celebrate the baptism of Jesus on Epiphany. But I’m not sure about your etymology of Epiphany (“bath day”). Everywhere I searched it said Epiphany meant “revelation” or “manifestation.” Thanks!

    • Hi Mary. Thanks for the comments. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. I’m afraid I don’t understand the question you are asking. What etymology are you inquiring about? I didn’t really provide an etymology for “epiphany” in the episode other than to note that it was derived from the name of the Christian festival that commemorated the baptism of Christ. I mentioned that the Anglo-Saxons used the term “bath day” in lieu of “epiphany,” but I didn’t say that “epiphany” meant ‘bath day.’ “Bath day” was a term coined by the Anglo-Saxons. I hope that clarifies any confusion.

  6. By the way, Old English middungeard and the Old Norse word midgard are cognates. It’s interesting to note, that midgard was created by the Gods as a kind of wall to protect the people within from (other supernatural) threats, and that association may have carried over into the Christian re-interpretation of God as a protector of people.

  7. Kevin, thank you for producing this most fascinating podcast. As a retired diplomat who has had the opportunity to study several different languages, most of which are in the indo-european family, I see lots of etymological connections, many of which you have noted, but many more which you have not.

    In relation to this and other related episodes, the theme of which was the introduction of literacy to the early Anglo-Saxons, a concurrent theme of my language study was that, as a rule, the type of alphabet used in a particular language is the direct result of the monotheistic religion that culture practiced. Since both Christianity and Islam center on their respective books — the Bible and the Q’uran, the introduction of these religions to a particular culture generally introduced alphabet the language used. As a result, Islamic cultures tend to use the Arabic script for their writing. For example Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, etc., all use the Arabic script, despite Arabic being a Semitic language, while Farsi is Indo-European. The exception that proves this rule is modern Turkish, which uses a version of the Latin alphabet, despite Turkey being an Islamic country. This Latinized alphabet was imposed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s and ’30s in an effort to secularize Turkey and to eliminate illiteracy. Before Ataturk, the Ottoman empire used Arabic script to write their version of Turkish.

    By the same rule, the specific type of Christianity practiced by a particular culture determined which alphabet they used. Cultures whose religion is derived from the Orthodoxy of the Byzantine Empire use alphabets derived from the Greek, such as Bulgarian, Russian, and Greek itself. A good example of this is the difference between how Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia write what is essentially the same language, Serbo-Croatian, with the Orthodox Serbs writing in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is derived from the Greek, and the Catholic Croats writing the same language in a Latin script.

    Please keep these fascinating episodes coming!

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