I was alerted that my friend "Diogenes" of Off The Record posted the following grand tidbit:


Posted Dec. 9, 2008 4:53 PM  by Diogenes

 According to the official Vatican translation, in a message about the Christian heritage of European culture, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged reflection upon "the ancient roots in which abundant lymph has flowed over the course of the centuries."


Hey, look: I know it was a long weekend. Let’s cut the poor translators a bit of slack.

But if you have "ancient roots" through which "abundant lymph" is flowing, please see a doctor, quickly.


Thanks be to God the Holy Father didn’t talk about the "dew" of the Holy Spirit… especially so close to Rorate Sunday in Advent.

After all, these words are way tooo haaard!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Federico says:

    Methinks he meant “sap”. If I understand the meaning (and the likely Italian phrase behind it) I don’t think “dew” would be right.

    Still awkward, though.

  2. Andreas says:

    Or maybe the Pope was just reading Fons Bandusiae (since it was the poets birthday yeasterday):

    O fons Bandusiae …
    … unde loquaces
    lymphae desiliunt tuae.

    Catchy, isn’t it?

  3. Fr W says:

    I noticed in the English translation of the breviary the other day a very hard word: Dew.

    I thought that was translated by ICEL – what were they thinking?!

  4. Sioux City believer says:

    A plague of lymph, indeed, is building up in the buboes of modern culture, causing them to swell and bruise alarmingly. Symptoms progress rapidly through feverish activism, ennui, languor, delusions (both of grandeur and of phantasma), and possibly death. Highly contagious in its primary lymphatic form. Especially virulent in its secondary pneumatic form, mainly prevalent in certain miasmic environments (see also “University, modern,” “Spirit of Vatican II,” “Innovation, liturgical”). Diagnosis at any time before the pre-terminal delusional stage offers very high rates of successfuly treatment through the antibacterial “Traditio.”

  5. Jordanes says:

    Abundant lymph? Did somebody get lazy and use Altavista Babelfish?

  6. Tzard says:

    No, Lymph is entirely proper – just look it up.

    Lymph is a steam of pure clear water – seen as a source of cleansing. Hence the human “lymph” system was named. It has more ancient roots in words like “lympha” in Latin.

    It’s better than “sap” which is mostly a plant phenomenon (though a similar meaning – it’s less precise and not as ancient. Pure flowing water has baptismal connections and a good symbol for the transmission of doctrine.

  7. Maureen says:

    But in English, we usually call that “pure flowing water” (or indeed “living water”) — because it connotes “pure flowing water” and not “yucky yellow part of the immune system which every chorister in the world is praying will not swell up until after Christmastide”.

  8. Rob in Maine says:

    Working in surgery, I had to look lymph up for the original meaning. I love etymology.

    My Latin Dictionary has sucus, -i for sap and lympha, -ae more like spring water. Interestingly, lympahticus is listed as crazy person. Oh those crazy lymphy Catholics! Gotta love ’em!

  9. Roland de Chanson says:

    There is no “official” English translation of the message on the Vatican website, at least not yet. Only the Italian version is there.

    The Italian original has “antiche radici dalle quali è fluita linfa abbondante nel corso dei secoli”, which means “ancient roots from which has flowed abundant lymph in the course of the centuries.”

    Demauro defines “linfa” as “acqua sorgiva, limpida e chiara” (spring water, clean and clear) as literary use, and “alimento, nutrimento spec. spirituale” (food, nourishment, esp. spiritual) in a figurative sense.

    Curiously, in Latin “lympha” is an alternate form of “nympha” and means (among other things) “water nymph” a.k.a. naiad or nymph of springs, streams, brooks, creeks, sewer pipes, etc. The form lu/mfh does not exist in classical Greek. In modern Greek it means “lymph” in the biological sense.

    Now I am not inclined to pettifoggery over the sempiternal treacheries of translators, but it seems to me that roots absorb water rather than secrete it. So the biological metaphor does not work. The figurative sense works very well. The limpid and clear font of Holy Father’s wisdom is that abundant nourishment has flowed from the roots of Christianity across the centuries.

  10. Using ‘lymph’ for ‘pure water’ is like using ‘zone’ for ‘belt’ – translationese.

  11. Roland de Chanson says:

    Oops – that lu/mfh word should ????? i.e. greek lymphe.

  12. Jordanes says:

    Tzard said: No, Lymph is entirely proper – just look it up. Lymph is a steam of pure clear water – seen as a source of cleansing. Hence the human “lymph” system was named. It has more ancient roots in words like “lympha” in Latin. It’s better than “sap” which is mostly a plant phenomenon

    You’ve made my point for me. Since “sap” is a plant phenomenon, and plants do not have “lymph” (not in English), then if one is talking about “ancient roots” in English, then one should opt for the plant metaphor. Therefore lymph is entirely incorrect. Very Babelfishy. Not good translation technique at all.

  13. Joseph says:

    Lymph is an English word; it does refer to water; and it can also refer to sap. While the translators may have used an archaic word, they did not use an incorrect one. The OED offers the following meanings for “lymph”:

    1. a. Pure water; water in general; a stream. Only poet. and rhetorical.

    2. Bot. A colourless fluid in plants; the sap. (This I take to be the Pope’s meaning)

    3. Phys. A colourless alkaline fluid, derived from various tissues and organs of the body, resembling blood but containing no red corpuscles.

    Only on definition 4 do we get something a bit less savory:

    4. a. The exudation from an inflamed tissue, from a sore, etc. b. In recent use often spec. for vaccine lymph (see VACCINE), the matter which is taken from the vesicles characteristic of cow-pox in a cow or calf or in a vaccinated human being, in order to be used in the operation of vaccination. Hence, in wider sense, any morbid matter taken from a person or animal suffering from a disease, in order to be employed in some prophylactic operation analogous to vaccination.

    5. attrib. and Comb. a. simple attributive, as lymph-cell, -channel, -corpuscle, -follicle, -gland, -globule, -path, -sinus, -space, -stoma (pl. stomata), -stream, -vessel; b. objective, as lymph-absorption, -secretion; lymph-connective, -forming adjs.; lymph-canalicular a., of or pertaining to lymph-channels; lymph-cataract (see quot.); lymph-heart, one of a number of contractile muscular sacs which pump the lymph forward; lymph node, any of several small rounded gland-like structures of the lymphatic system, which are disposed along the course of the lymph vessels and which are responsible for removing foreign bodies from the lymph stream and for producing lymphocytes and antibodies; a lymph gland.

  14. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Surprised that no one’s brought up “limpid”, which seems clearly related and closer in tone to the apparent intent in the original.

  15. Mila says:

    I see we have lost our sense of the poetic, possibly due to being exposed to the horrible ICEL translations all these years. Tzard is correct; lymph is perfectly appropriate. It could be interpreted either as definition 1) or definition 2) of the OED,as Joseph points out. As a translator, I would be inclined to interpret it as in definition 1), taking into account that the original is in Italian and the definition in that language coincides with defintion 1) in the OED, both in its literary use and in the figurative.

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