Translation musings: Roman secrets

Nov 22, 2016 | First Edition Translations, Language, Miscellaneous, Musings

Althofen_Pfarrkirche_hl_Thomas_von_Canterbury_Grabara_Commodius_24062015_5227Last weekend I visited a friend of mine in Oxford. We had a great time with lots of laughter, good food and we also popped in to the Ashmolean Museum. (Actually, it was more than a short pop-in, we spent half a day in there.)

Among many wonders of the world in the museum, I also found an interesting section about ancient Roman tombstones. It might sound morbid but it was truly fascinating! Did you know that Romans wrote in some kind of code on tombstones to save some space? Just like modern day texting or tweeting!

For example, “D M” stood for “dis manibus” which means “to the spirits of the dead”. The abbreviation “VIX. ANN.”, short for “vixit annos” translates into English as “lived for … years”.  You could also find “B M” on one of these ancient Latin headstones. Puzzled by what it means? It stands for “bene merenti” or “who was well deserving”.

These gravestone abbreviations were obvious to the initiated (i.e. ancient Romans), however, if I hadn’t read the clever explanations of what they stand for, I would have had no idea of their meaning.

Our translators might find themselves in a similar situation when translating highly specialised documents. Although they will be familiar with the subject matter they are working with, they might not know the meaning of abbreviations used by a small circle of experts or within one organisation. Also, certain abbreviations might refer to several things, so it’s always a good idea to provide us with the list of abbreviations together with what they stand for when you request a translation, in order to avoid misunderstandings. If you’d like us to keep abbreviations in English as your target readership might be more familiar with them that way, just let us know.

If you have any questions about how we work and how we could help your organisation with our translations, please do not hesitate to get in touch by emailing or calling 01223 356 733.


Source of image: Johann Jaritz