Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The dictionary of rare and obscure words.

A somewhat similar issue as the previous one. Not translating a pun, but rather a rare word from French to English. Émile, in love with a vicar, is paging through her Dictionary of Rare and Precious Words (her Dictionnaire des mots rares et précieux, although in English maybe précieux should be 'obscure'? Or 'unusual'?) and there finds les plus beaux mots du monde:

abstème: (n.) a priest who is exempted from drinking from the chalice because of an acute aversion to wine.

oblatif(ve): (adj.) placing the needs of others before one's own.

I'm not sure an English equivalent exists for the first, but there is the adjective 'abstemious', meaning "not self-indulgent, esp. when eating and drinking." It loses the religious aspect, though, which is sort of important here. The second might be best translated as 'agape'. In the Deus Caritas Est, a document written by the current Pope Benedict XVI, the distinction is made between possessive love (Eros) and unconditional, self-sacrificing love (Agape). But... is agape a rare/obscure word? Maybe not so much, with over 17 million hits on the trusty old Goog. Any other ideas?



  1. Could you put the second one as "altruistic"? It's at least mildly obscure, and I think captures the meaning fairly well. (I agree that "rare and obscure words" is a better dictionary name.)

    I liked the autopsy reports in the middle of the night on Mox's blog, by the way :)

  2. Melissa,
    Thanks, that's a good idea.
    As for Mox's comic, it was actually translating material for a college course on embalming... yuck! So creepy.