or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Today I was framing a whole bunch of a doctor's diplomas and medical certificates--like, ten. One of them contained this phrase or a close approximation of it:

We declare to these presents that XXX has attained the title of Doctor of Medicine.

"These presents"!

My first thought was, "A typo! On a doctor's certificate!" But as I kept framing them, I noticed that some of them were in both English and French (as is the way in Canada) and it finally dawned on me that what I had been looking at wasn't a typo, exactly, but a mistranslation.

In French, certain adjectives can attain the status of nouns meaning "those who are" or "one who is" when preceded by an article. (English allows a lot of liberty with the various parts of speech, but not that.) The title of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables in English becomes not "The Miserables", which sounds like a family name, but "The Wretches" or some such. In French, the phrase "les pr├ęsents" means "those present" or "those who are present", but if you're translating directly, without a strong sense of English, you might well come up with "those presents", or, if the original phrase was "ces pr├ęsents" ("these people who are present"), "these presents". It's perfectly good French, but English? Not so much.

I still can't quite believe that nobody caught it.


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