I Used to Speak In General Conference

It’s true, I did.  Multiple times, in fact.  And although modesty restrains me from elaborating on the difference in righteousness between those of us who are invited to speak in conference and the rest of you sinners, backsliders, and reprobates who are not, it would nonetheless behoove you to keep that difference in mind, should you ever want to disagree with or take exception to something I say.  I hope none of you tries to steady the ark by over-analyzing, nit-picking, critiquing, or wresting my words by looking beyond the mark.  We must keep the doctrine pure. 

 OK, OK, so I didn’t technically prepare a talk.  I was an interpreter, and did live translation for the conference speakers.  Here is how the process works.  Several weeks before conference, talks from the general authorities start to come in to the office of the translators’ supervisor.  He made the assignments as to who would translate for whom, so you always hoped that your speakers would get their talks in early.  I would say maybe 25% of the speakers submit complete talks at least a week before conference, 25% submit a detailed outline, 25% submit only a rough outline, and the rest submit nothing at all.  Some of the old-timers told me horror stories about being called upon to interpret for LeGrande Richards, who never spoke from a text.  He spoke as the Spirit gave utterance, and a written text would only have slowed him down.  When you get the complete talk beforehand, you can spend lots of time translating the text, but that process can give a false sense of security.  Sometimes, speakers deviate from their prepared text, so you still need to be on your toes.

In the tabernacle, the space under the choir seats contained a large room where all the interpreters assembled.  There had to be 30 or 40 languages represented, and each language had a booth with two chairs and two microphones.  A toggle switch was installed in the booth which controlled which mic was live.  There were always two people in the booth, so if one interpreter got stuck on a phrase or started to fall too far behind, the other one could simply flip the switch and jump right in.

The experience of interpreting the words of people we sustain as prophets has shaped the way I understand the gospel.  I hadn’t realized how much the device of language can channel our thoughts, and how much our language shapes our culture.  English is an especially rich and idiosyncratic language, and allows a speaker to do just about anything.  For instance, consider the title of the movie that came out a few years ago, Dumb and Dumberer.  You can get away with that in English, but not in other languages.  Another example is the talk by Elder Bednar in a recent Ensign.  He makes a point of emphasizing the verse from scripture which says that the Spirit carries a witness unto the hearts of men, but not into them.  My German version of the scriptures doesn’t make the distinction nearly as neatly, so this talk presents a challenge to a translator.

Another challenge that is almost inevitable arrives when the speaker starts telling sports stories.  Words like “fourth and long”, “bottom of the ninth inning”, and “three point shot” don’t translate at all, so the only thing an interpreter can do is slip into the third person and say “Elder X is now telling a story about the American sport of basketball.  It was late in the game, and the opposing team had a large lead in points. . .”  Stories about scouting and YW camp are hard to render in a way that is comprehensible, since most members outside of the North America don’t know about scouting or YW camp as official church programs.  A few years ago at BYU Education week, the schedule gave notice of a parenting class entitled If You Don’t Want Your Kid to Act Like Bart Simpson, You Need to Quit Acting Like Homer.  I have no idea how an interpreter would have approached that.  Also, talks about the language of prayer are hard.  In English we use the very formal form of address, and in most other languages, members use the familiar.  What do you say if you are interpreting and the speaker singles out the familiar “du” or “tu” and reprimands his listeners for becoming too casual in the manner in which they address diety?

All in all, translating for conference is a great experience.  Seeing the talks a few weeks ahead of time makes you feel like the ultimate insider.  You don’t get paid, but you do get a ticket that entitles you to a free lunch in the COB cafeteria.  And you can get lost in the tunnels that go from the tabernacle to the temple to the COB and now, presumably, to the conference center.  The general authorities use small golf carts as a means of conveyance, with the older men being driven by someone and the younger ones driving themselves, and some of the younger ones have a lead foot.  The horns on the carts make a sound that is exactly like the beep-beep noise that the Roadrunner makes before running over Wile E. Coyote, so when you hear that sound echoing off the tile walls of the tunnel, you better get out of the passing lane.  I always got a thrill to think that the church members who had assembled at odd hours in their chapels on another continent were hearing the prophet’s words through my voice. 

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Note 1.  Everything I have described here is as it was 20 years ago.  Perhaps some of the details have changed now.

Note 2.  This is probably the only thing you will ever read that combines commentary on conference with references to Dumb and Dumber, The Simpsons, and Roadrunner cartoons.  Isn’t that what you come to BCC for?  If not, be grateful for small blessings.

Comments

  1. Question: does anyone pimp their golf cart?

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    I loved this post. Thanks.

  3. Very cool, Mark!!! Thanks for the glimpse. I love picturing the GAs with their golf carts!

  4. mark,

    the “bee-beep” is more of meep-meep. Roadrunner is one of the voices I mimic.

    great story too.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Great post.

    Ronan, people do indeed pimp their golf carts.

  6. Ronan,

    Yes, but usually only with Nike/Moroni swooshes and RULDS2 bumper stickers. Maybe some of the newer brethren have installed hydraulic shocks.

  7. I would think that anyone who spoke another language or had lived outside the US would be acutely aware of the problems that sports analogies present. Does the translation department have the gumption to request these “teaching devices” not be used in GC? Couldn’t speakers be told “save it for your 25 stake conference assignments and stick to the basics here”?

    I guess that will be the bonus of having more and more international speakers.

  8. This was awesome! I feel like an insider, now too. I love the image of staid, be-suited GA’s driving like maniacs and Meep-meeping drive-bys.

  9. Awesome, Ronan.

  10. Will Schryver says:

    Great story. I would only comment on the fact that, in archaic English, “thou” and “thee” are the equivalent of the familiar “tu” forms in the romance languages. It is a popular misconception that we English speakers are using a more “formal” or “respectful” form of our language when we pray to God. To the contrary, we use “thou” and “thee” because they are the familiar forms.

  11. I interpreted for conference just two years ago and the process is pretty much the same. The free lunch was the best because the GA’s often ate at the same place. Lots of fun sightings.
    I don’t know about you Mark, but when I interpreted for conferece, we also did the prayers.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Very cool insider’s glimpse of what goes on. Thanks for this!

  13. this was really cool. One problem on my mission was that the translations came in straight cebuano, which very few spoke, instead going for a mix of english, tagalog, and cebuano. Often, no one knew what we were talking about when we discussed the pag-uli of Christ, rather than the pag-usa, and everyone would have looked at us funny if we had used any other word for basketball except the english. Is it the typical role of the translator to assume the person listening knows absolutely zero english, or is there any effort to evaluate what is culturally normal to say in their area?

  14. I have a question.

    How come the non-native English speaking Elders give their talks in English? Seems like it would be easier and better for all of us if they could speak in their native tongue and have it translated into English. I would think they could be more effective by letting the words roll off their tongues instead of focusing on pronunciation, timing, ect.

  15. When I was a missionary in the 80′s (Italy Rome) I was often asked to translate for some of the Italian missionaries during Zone Conferences (the Mission Pres. didn’t speak the language very well, and gave zone conferences in English).

    I was able to keep up just fine, and got a lot of complements on my translations, but in trying to translate I retained almost nothing of what was said – I had to ask a companion to keep notes for me.

  16. Ardis Parshall says:

    mfranti, if they did that, we’d need far more than a Cebuano-English translator. We’d need a Cebuano-Chinese, and a Cebuano-Finnish, and a Cebuano-everything else. Then that batch of interpreters would have to make way for a wave of Spanish-Greek and Spanish-Dutch and Spanish-everything else translaters. Then that batch …

  17. I’m confused about the thee/thou thing. In what way is that familiar? Sounds formal to me, since I don’t use it in everyday lingo. Are you saying that, in french for example, prayers use the tu rather than vous forms? Seems counterintuitive. Anyone have more insight on this?

  18. MCQ, it sounds more formal to our ears, but it’s actually the familiar form that in English has dropped out of common usage.

  19. See Wikipedia on “Thou”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou

  20. Fascinating, Mark! Ich spreche Deutch nicht sehr gut (can’t spell it either), but translation fascinates me–particularly the difficulty/impossibility of relating the nuances and wordplay as you describe.

    When I was Activity Days leader, I had a woman in our stake come and teach some sign language as well as teach us the ASL translation of “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” that we sang and signed for sacrament meeting. I love the visual representation of concepts like “learn,” “help,” and “follow,” and to watch a person translate a talk into sign language is to open a new field of understanding in my registry. I imagine that the experience of on-your-toes translations of the spoken gospel requires a bit of mental gymnastics at times, but probably teaches you new ways of thinking about the concepts, as well.

    I’d like to hear more about your experiences some time.

  21. To follow up on what Tatiana said:

    The familiar forms were only used with famlilial relationships (and sometimes close friends [depending on the language and the century]). The idea is that God is our Father and so should be addressed with the familiar form.

    The thee and thou is confusing to English speakers, for sure. Indeed, one of the missionaries I served with in Romania refused to use the familiar form in prayers — using the formal instead. Also in Romania it actually is “tu”. Closest living language to Latin*.

    *Except for, possibly, Romansch but that has less than 50,00 speakers.

  22. Mark,
    I heard just the other day that some speakers that know another language can, if they choose, record their own talk in another language. That way, those listening in that language hear the speaker in their own voice.

    For example, I was told that Elder Scott records his addresses in Spanish and in Portuguese. I thought that was neat….

    I would assume that some of those that speak English as a second language record their own talk in their native tongue as well…

  23. mfranti,

    As was noted, having different sets of translators would be a nightmare; especially as most of the church speaks English or Spanish. I’m afraid that for now, the greatest good for the greatest number will remain English broadcasts; regardless of the coolness of having multiple languages spoken at Conference.

    If I remember correctly, they have started having some sort of yearly Spanish broadcast from the Conference Center.

    According to Wikipedia, ~1.8 billion people understand English and 800 million Spanish. I am sure that for now at least most LDS have at least a passing familiarity in English compared to any other languages. According to this site, English is 2nd or 3rd after Manderin with Spanish following closely.

    (Besides, isn’t English the Adamic language?) ;)

  24. Jonathan Green says:

    The German conference broadcast included a taped recording of Elder Kopischke reading his own talk in German. With other speakers, the original English is played quietly underneath the translation, but for the native speaker recordings, the background is silence.

  25. I can’t believe I typed Ronan in #9 instead of Mark. Sorry, Mark, I was rushed.

  26. No one in Particular says:

    Response to a couple comments:

    14. In their own languages: I know that it’s the (contemporary) practice of native speakers (and many passably good or fluent non-natives, such as Elder Scott) of Spanish to pre-record their talks in Spanish. I don’t know if there is a similar practice among native speakers of other languages, but someone reading this must know… and of course Ardis is right on in her 16; that’s why the pre-recording is Spanish and the talk itself is delivered live in English. On a tangent, I never realized Elder Falabella spoke English so well, but it doesn’t surprise me.

    13. ‘Culturally normal’; and the whole question of formal/informal address in English and in translation: While it is true that ‘thou’ (and related forms) in an earlier stage of English represented a familiar form which has been supplanted by ‘you’ (which was a formal address form at one point, but was originally a second person plural: “ya’ll”), it is entirely outside the standard English-speaking Mormon experience to conceive of these pronouns as somehow familiar or intimate forms of address. I could be wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that any such sentiment was already centuries gone by the time of the Restoration. Sorry, but English-speaking Mormons use those forms of address as formalizing archaism, bringing themselves into line with the KJV language tradition. (It’s technically a literary dialect, like Epic Greek.)

    In many languages (like Spanish, the example I know best), it is fairly common knowledge that there are a variety of pronominal address forms which vary according to attitude/relative social status/etc. of the speaker.
    In the case of Spanish, the situation is particularly complicated, since there are technically not just two, but three available forms for addressing a single person: tu, ud., and vos. The first and last tend not to co-occur in a single country, or at least within a single class level in a single country. I have heard talks given by Mexican-Spanish-speaking members explaining exactly what has been mentioned here, namely: “We use ‘tu’ because God is our Father and wants us to be familiar/intimate in our communication.” (This in opposition to ‘ud.’, a more distant formal address; ‘vos’ is not used in Mexico). On the other hand, I have heard a talk with the same goal (prayer in ‘tu’) in Honduras, exhorting members to use ‘tu’, which is extolled as “the only form of adequate formality and respect for our Creator and Lord.” (This, like English, represents archaism in imitation of the scriptures, which generally use ‘tu’; in Honduras, the system is exclusively informal/familiar ‘vos’ vs. respectful-distance ‘ud.’) Lest it seem that I am criticizing these speakers for having opposite reasons for the same teaching, let me make clear that I know a number of individual speakers who pray in ‘ud.’ (which is strange to hear) and have often heard others who use or periodically lapse into ‘vos’ which, to Central American (or maybe just Mormon?) ears, just doesn’t sound right either.

  27. Peter LLC says:

    Are you a native German speaker?

    With all respect due the selfless service of the interpreters, it’s bad enough listening to the Piefkes they’ve got in the booth these days, but having to suffer through conference accompanied by the grating accent of a native English speaker would be ferchtbar!

  28. Peter,

    Ferchtbar indeed. Also sleckt.

    Sorry man, I’m a proud Utard by birth, but the German I learned in Bremen and Gottingen will hold its own against you Wieners anyday. /smiley here/

  29. geeeeezzzz…i feel like an idiot now.

    thanks for the answers guys.

  30. On my mission I always dreamed about someday becoming a general authority for the express purpose of saying things in English that would be untranslatable into a certain language. For example in my mission language, “if” and “when” are both expressed with the same word, so I figured I would make the them of my talk something like: “We should not ask IF living the gospel will bring us blessings, but WHEN the blessings will come.” Also, in Russian they have the same word for “world” and “peace,” meanings which wouldn’t be too hard to tangle up for a translator.

    Just one more reason I’ll never be a general authority.

  31. Why an idiot? We can’t learn if we don’t ask.

    I never know that speakers pre-recorded their talks in other languages — it never even occurred to me. At least it will make them stick to their text.

  32. Jon in Austin says:

    As a sidenote to conference translations, non-English-as-a-First-Language GAs usually pre-record their talk in their native language and Elder Scott always pre-records his in Spanish and (at least when I was in Brazil a couple years ago) Portuguese. The pre-recorded talks are then played over the native channel instead of a live translator.

    This leads to interesting moments when the recording ends and the GA hasn’t finished his English talk. Sometimes church members end up listening to a minute or two of the English version though they are usually pretty good with the timing.

    I used to work at the COB as an intern and one of my co-workers was a native Haitian who did the Creole translations for conference.

  33. Jon in Austin says:

    Sorry about the repost of info from 26… didn’t get that far into the comments before posting.

  34. I remember a few years ago I was reading a conference talk in an Ensign and listening to it on the CD as well (trying to get the most out of it, I suppose). I came across a passage where the apostle (can’t remember which one and my search online failed me) said something like “We are so blessed to live in this great country of ours”, but in the printed version it said something like, “We are so blessed to live in this wonderful world”. My naive mind was shocked: they changed the talk of an apostle! I’m sure they had his permission. I definitely notice now when GAs start saying something that would only make sense to an American.

  35. Going back to the original post and the mention of Elder Legrande Richards. When I was on my mission years and years ago in el Peru we got only the Sunday am session. Elder Richards was speaking, and if you remember, when he spoke, it was almost without pausing for a breath. Well, not very far into his speech it was obvious that the translator was struggling to keep up. Finally, in a tone of exasperation, over the open mike, he said, “You take it. I can’t keep up.” My companion and I just cracked up.

  36. Jon, from deep in the heart of, # 32 and 33,

    No need to apologize. That is interesting information that I didn’t know.

    Mike, 34,

    Once when I was interpreting, I got the complete talk two weeks before conference. I spent lots of time getting the translation just right, then a day or two before conference, I got an amended version. The GA attached a nice note apologizing for the additional work, and said that he had made the changes because his wife didn’t like the way the original talk had sounded. It reminded me of how Joseph Smith would sometimes circulate the text of revelations to his friends and associates and sometimes incorporate their suggestions before publishing.

    John, 35,

    That is seriously funny, and I know exactly how he felt. Getting behind while interpreting is like making a mistake as an accompanist. But it’s worse, because hymns have natural breaks where you can catch up, but the speaker just keeps getting further and further ahead of you.

  37. “You take it. I can’t keep up.” Good times; good memories.

  38. Mark — Being someone interested in languages, I especially enjoyed reading your post.

    And I’m glad to find out that those speaking languages other than English get to record their talks in other languages. I’m still waiting for the day, though, when we have someone who doesn’t (yet) speak English give a talk in General Conference.

  39. Fascinating!

  40. No one in Particular says:

    38. Copedi: I hear you, but I’m not so sure it’ll happen. The Church has been pushing English pretty strongly for some time now as the ‘Language of the Restoration’ in Central America, from which I would extrapolate that perhaps the same is being said in the rest of Latin America; someone else would have to chime in about anything not in the Americas. I don’t think they will make an overt requirement that good English skills are necessary for advancement beyond a certain rung in the hierarchy, but it certainly seems to be a point of consideration. As I mentioned before, I was surprised at Elder Falabella’s English; I’ve also met several area authorities in Honduras, and they tend to speak some English and to care a LOT about their children speaking it even better.

    In the interest of fair play, I should mention that the reasoning provided for pressure on members and leaders to learn English is quite strong:

    1. Modern revelation, a significant part of our canon, is available in English as its ‘original’ language (or as ‘original’ as it gets for now with the BoM)

    2. Economic advantages in a global economy.

    3. Access to information in the modern world.

    4. Makes communication easier inside the church, as in conference, leadership trainings, etc.

    I think that other reasons may have also sometimes been cited, but those seem to be the big (and, to my mind, potentially legitimate) ones.

  41. This last conference I’ve listened to all the sessions at home (in english, thank God for BYUTV.org).
    After correlation meeting I was explaining to the new missionary (Sister Force from suthern Utah) that our cultural hall was not used for sacrement meeting (all the chairs were still there since conference) but was used for the people that wanted to listen to the english version instead of the dutch.

    Then the 2nd counselor(?) of the SP corrected me and said: this time actually we decided to put the dutch version in the cultural hall because more people wanted to listen to the english instead of the dutch.

    I was wondering if this trend is common among other western europe country’s. I prefer english if only to also be able to get the jokes (so numerous last conference). Jokes must be the hardest thing to translate in real-time!

  42. No one in Particular (#38) mentioned that the Church is pushing English as “the language of the restoration” in Central America. Is there a source where I could read more about this idea? Or is it something you have seen firsthand or heard about second hand?

    I am interested in this concept, although I admit my initial reaction is not entirely positive. I’m inclined to think that the Lord’s inspiration was filtered through the human medium of Joseph Smith to the point that the English text of the D&C does not represent the “original language” of the Lord much more than any of our other translated scriptures. (Although the authors of the Explanatory Introduction to the D&C seemed to think otherwise–see the third paragraph.)

    I kind of like the idea of everyone hearing the fulness of the gospel in their own tongue and in their own language (to paraphrase D&C 90:11).

  43. No one in Particular says:

    CE: I’ve never actually seen this in print[1], but I have heard it both first- and second-hand repeatedly from a variety of leaders in the last 5 years. In particular, I heard Elder Scott say it in 2002 to non-English-speaking missionaries. He made sure to mention that the English speaking companions they had were an excellent opportunity that they may not have again. I know that in an additional meeting with the leadership of the missions of Honduras he repeated the advice, and even responded relatively harshly to someone asking whether it was instruction to everyone or ‘just good counsel.’ I have it from my brother-in-law that he said very similar things to the single adults, singling out future and returned missionaries (which in Central American Church culture is also clearly understood to mean ‘future leadership,’ but that’s a whole different conversation.)

    I have it on the word of several people in attendance that Elder Bednar touched the topic when he visited Honduras a couple years ago, but I don’t really know exactly what he said or how he presented it.

    I know the families of a couple 70′s/Area Authorities in Honduras and Central America at large, and I know that all have at least some English, most are at least conversationally competent, and their children are virtually all passingly good or excellent English speakers. The same is largely true of important church employees and many stake leaders. Many of these same leaders have discussed these ideas in a variety of Church contexts on occasion.

    The non-profit but Mormon-run and Mormon-focused BIT (training future and returned missionaries in important business skills) expends significant effort in providing a reasonable amount of English instruction to its students.

    It is commonly brought up in firesides and in personal interviews in the youth and young adult demographics. Our stake president apparently confided to my wife that she didn’t need to worry about coming to the US because the Lord was blessing her with the opportunity to become bilingual. He also mentioned that he felt like he had lagged behind some other SPs of the area who already spoke passably well.

    I’d be interested to know if anyone has heard similar things in the last 5-10 years in Mexico or South America, or anywhere else for that matter. I have the impression that this is not the case in Europe, where multilingualism is generally more common (or at least more commonly includes English, rather that a local indigenous language like in Latin America), and that makes me wonder about the teachings in a place like Africa, too.

    I should mention that I am dedicated to language diversity and the preservation of disappearing languages, so I have mixed feelings on the subject myself; nevertheless, I have to admit that from an informed perspective about language shift and contact, it is sound advice: it is as necessary to recognize the value of English in a globalized world as it is to recognize that the northern boundary of Latin American Spanish is not the Rio Bravo, but rather somewhere significantly to the north of southern CA, TX, and FL, and that the northward spread will continue no matter how many walls the government builds.

    [1] My wife says that she recalls a statement from the first presidency related to the topic in something she read on her mission, maybe the old mission guide?

  44. Thanks for the insight, No one in Particular.

    I imagine there are many potential secular benefits that could come to Latin American members who learn English (you named several in your two posts).

    But I am afraid that this could possibly become a divisive issue. I would hate for English proficiency to be seen as a mark of extra faithfulness among foreign-speaking members. If it becomes a de facto requirement for certain leadership positions, then that might happen.

    If the church is literally going to grow to fill the earth, I think it will turn out to be much more diverse that it currently is–and that includes languages. If the church were to focus on teaching English rather then reaching out in other languages, that might limit its ability to reach all people.

  45. Fascinating post.
    I remember Elder Oaks giving a talk some years ago about using “thou” and “thee” when we prayed, and my father commenting on how he wondered that would translate into other, non-romance, non-germanic languages.
    I’d never thought of that before, and haven’t really since, but your post made me realize how difficult translation must me the vast majority of the time.
    Perhaps that’s why we have “horses” and “steel” in the Book of Mormon?

  46. No one in Particular says:

    CE: I agree completely. I’ve been representing the positive, pragmatic aspect of these teachings, as I heard them presented and to the best of my own abilities, but I think you are absolutely right about this sort of thing carry some potentially very damaging ramifications. If we really plan to take the gospel to all the world, we will soon have to realize that the connection between English (not to mention the Church generally) and the US doesn’t always build goodwill and open doors.
    Personally, I would love to see some of the things that have been mentioned in this and other recent threads, such as a General Conference talk which originated in another language or a Latin (or other non-N.America/W.Europe) Apostle, but I recognize the tremendous logistical and other difficulties related to these.

    I am also unwilling to entirely dismiss the religious reasoning, which has generally been promoted above the secular when I’ve heard these talks; I certainly felt differently about the NT when I started through it in Greek, and I wouldn’t deny anyone the same opportunity which the BoM or D&C. Of course, I felt differently about those works upon reading them in Spanish, so maybe I should just say that I broadly support multilingualism.

    Andrew: As to the difficulty of translation and the BoM, I have only two words: cureloms and cumoms. ;)

  47. I hope I am not repeating a point already made. (I think I read every post on this thread.) Another translation problem, though not of serious import, perhaps, has to do with jokes. Verbal humor (contrasted with physical humor) is slippery to translate under any conditions; for a missionary-translator, it can be perilous.

    Many years ago, one General Authority known for his personable, joke-rich talks, had been assigned to visit Japan and expressed concern that maybe his style of speaking wouldn’t hold up under translation. But in the event, his audience laughed heartily at every witty remark.

    It was only later that the mission president explained the missionary-translator’s method. Whenever the visiting General Authority told a joke, the translator would skip the joke and simply say, “Elder X. has just told a joke. Will you please laugh.”

  48. Another translation problem is with euphemisms. I translated at Zone Conferences frequently because 1/3 of our missionaries were native. But for the MP’s wife’s talk, I was glad a native elder was translating. The MP’s wife was talking about hygiene. He translated “hygiene” as “take a bath”, which made for some really tangled sentences. When she talked about grooming, he translated it “hairdo.” It was a riot to listen to him try to translate her euphemistic plea for better hygiene in a country that doesn’t mind body odor. And I was so glad I didn’t have to do it!

    Word plays are also impossible. That neat English idea that the atonement makes us “at one” with Christ just doesn’t work in any other language that I know of.

  49. No one in Particular says:

    Melinda: Word play is more often than not impossible to recreate, but in the case of ‘atonement’ having the components ‘at’ and ‘one,’ you can actually cite that as the etymology. It’s not unlike how we are often told that the Greek word ‘metanoia,’ translated as ‘repentance’ in English, is actually a compound of elements meaning something like a change of mind.

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