Coming from the Latin traducere, meaning “to bring across” or “to transfer”, traduce was used to mean “translate” from at least the fifteen hundreds, and was still in use when Charles Kingsley wrote his novel Alton Locke in 1850: the title character will be allowed no more books to read “If ye canna traduce to me a page o’ Virgil”, so the Scotsman Sandy Mackaye threatens him. The verb is related to words for “translation” in a number of Romance languages: French traduction and Italian traduzzione, for example. The more common sense of traduce now is to slander or disgrace a person. It seems a bit of a leap from “transfer” to “slander”, but the classical Latin traducere could also mean “to lead along (as a spectacle)”, as one might do to a criminal, and in later Latin it carried the sense “to lead astray”, “to corrupt”, and “to blame”. It’s a verb of many talents, and it seems quite fitting that a word for translation should itself have such a variety of possible translations.
This is my favourite translation verb, and the oldest of our five. Indeed, this meaning of the word seems to have died out in the twelve hundreds, remembered now only by students of Old English who read King Alfred’s accounts of his efforts at translation: “Ða ongan ic..ða boc wendan on Englisc”; “Then I began to translate that book into English”. The range of meanings that wend had even in those days tells us something about how the Anglo-Saxons thought about translation. It could mean altering your course, changing your mind, travelling, or taking the final journey of death. Translation was a slippery thing, and it could fatally change the meaning of the original text unless great care was taken by a skilful translator.These are just a few of the many verbs that are or have been used for translation; there was no space to talk about convert, render, interpret, or throw, to name just a few. Dub also lost out in my list of five, though it has the neatest etymology, being a simple shortening of the word double. So there is still plenty to explore in the world of translation; but, for now, I shall wend my way.