Black and white woodcut from title page of 1535 Coverdale Bible

V is for vocabulary

In the 1500s, English reformers set out to translate the words of God into English, so that everyone could read them. Translators like William Tyndale laboured throughout the 1520s and 1530s to bring the Bible to English speakers.

However, they faced a major obstacle in their endeavours: The English language did not have the vocabulary needed to produce accurate translations. Words that existed in other languagesin Latin, Greek, or Germansimply had no equivalent in English. To solve this problem the translators had to create new words. But this created an additional problem: What was the point of translating the Bible into English, if English readers did not understand half the words it was written in?

Some translators, like George Joye, chose to avoid creating new words wherever possibleeven if that meant their translations were less accurate as a result. Others, like William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale, took a more creative approach. They converted, adapted, and reshaped existing English words to suit new purposes.

Some of the words introduced by Bible translators remain in the English language today, including “scapegoat”, “sorcerer”, “foreskin”, and “killer”. 

Others were shortlivedsee if you can guess what some of them mean in this quiz [coming soon].

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