By Maeve Maddox

This reader’s question relates to the word translatory. Before writing, he looked it up:

Merriam-Webster definition: “of, relating to, or involving uniform motion in one direction.” Nothing about its clear parallel, translate.

The Free Dictionary lists “translatory” as an adjective under its entry for translation.

Oxford does not appear to list it as a word at all – at least via online search.

Translational is likely the correct adjective to use when discussing a translation, although translatory has been used to mean translational (e.g., ‘the translatory pen of William Tyndale’).

Ah, the ongoing battle of the dictionaries.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged I pay for has an entry for translatory, but no definition, just a link to translational.

The OED I use via subscription does have an entry for translatory: “of or pertaining to physical translation” and offers this example from 1849: “The negative tension of an insulated metal is sensibly augmented by giving a translatory motion to the gas which attacks its surface.”

M-W has a separate entry for “translatory motion”: “motion in which all points of a moving body move uniformly in the same line or direction.” No example of usage is offered.

The short answer to the reader’s question is that some speakers may use translatory in reference to translating languages, but translational is the more common adjective in that context.

A cursory search of the Web brought up two uses of translatory in reference to the translation of language, both from non-native English-speaking sources:

The master’s programme…provides in-depth knowledge of (foreign) languages and translatory skills acquired in the bachelor’s programme.—University of Graz (Austria).

[Some translators] failing to see the larger context or the translatory action at work.— Literary Translation in Modern Iran: A sociological study, by Esmaeil Haddadian-Moghaddam.

A search for “translatory” on Google brings up the admonitory message: “Did you mean translator?” and Word flags the word translatory with a squiggly red line.

The words translate, translator and translation have different meanings in different contexts.

For me, a translation is a text written in a language other than the original, and a translator is someone who renders a work written in one language into another.

In another context, a translator is a transmitter that rebroadcasts the signals of a distant TV station to rural areas:

In 1973, the construction of a network of transmitters and translators connected by microwave relay was approved by the state legislature.

Another meaning of translate is “To change in form, appearance, or substance.” Peter Quince uses the word with this meaning in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when, like Snount, he reacts to the sight of Bottom with an ass’s head:

SNOUT: O Bottom, thou art changed! What do I see on thee?

BOTTOM: What do you see? You see an ass head of your own, do you?

QUINCE: Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee. Thou art translated.

Translatory has its uses, but it is not the conventional choice in the context of language translation.

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3 Responses to “Translatory”

  • venqax

    The conclusion this seems to lead to is summed up in the last sentence (great use for last sentences!). “Translational” is the normal adjective best used when one is normally discussing translation in the sense of language or concepts. “Translatory”– if used at all– should be reserved for a less common jargon-ish contexts (or maybe actual jargon) referring to engineering or scientific concepts regarding motion. Whether or not “translatory” really is a term of art seems doubtful, since the comments suggest “translational” is used in those contexts, as well. BUT, please, we have to keep using translators for such purposes, not translationists.

  • David Knuttunen

    In engineering kinematics, I have heard both “translational” and “translatory” used as adjectives to describe a motion in space, not involving a rotation. The ONLY adjective I have heard to describe a motion involving a rotation is “rotational”. Any motion of a rigid body in space can be expressed as the sum of a rotation and a translation. For what it’s worth (not much) Firefox’s spell checker puts squiggly red lines under both “translational” and “translatory” but is perfectly happy with “rotational”.

  • Dan Lafreniere

    A translator can also describe a person who is able to translate speech from one language to another (i.e., simultaneous translators).

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