Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

MY husband had fallen into a stertorous doze in a garden chair. I hope he intended it as a tribute to the hospitality of my fellow word-watcher, the learned Nicholas Bagnall, but it meant that he missed our attempts at coming to grips with a strange discrepancy.

Mr Bagnall had just said by way of light irony, `Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.' It is a quotation from the Book of Job (xii). I had always known the sentence as, `Man is born to labour, as the bird to fly.' That is not quite the same.

The difference is chiefly because I was brought up on the Douay translation of the Bible, Mr Bagnall on the Authorised Version. The Douay follows the Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, which was made for Greek-speaking Jews in the pre-Christian era. The Authorised Version on this occasion follows the text of the original Hebrew as it has come down to us.

A more modern translation, though one seldom used now, is that of Ronald Knox (1949). He renders this verse: `Man's bent is for mischief, as sure as birds will fly.' That is neither the one thing nor the other. In an explanatory note Knox says, ' "Mischief": literally in the Latin version, "trouble", but the context seems to show that the other meaning of the Hebrew noun is to be preferred. …

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