Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peccavi - I have sinned/Sindh

The  most delightful double entendre regarding Latin didn't really happen. I remember my Latin teacher telling us this story when introducing the Perfect Tense of the verb:

British general Charles James Napier had been sent to suppress a rebellion in India. He overstepped his authority and instead conquered the Sindh province. He sent a one word message to his superiors, stating simply, PECCAVI. This would be translated as I have sinned. Meaning, he made a mistake (overstepping his authority) but also I have Sindh (he took the province).

But, in fact, the general never sent this messsage at all. In a move akin to how today news outlets occasionally believe the Onion is real, the pun was actually the brain-child of a British teenage, Catherine Winkworth. She told her Latin teacher that PECCAVI is what Napier should have sent as a message (since news of the matter had reached the homeland).  She sent her joke to the magazine Punch, which believed it factual and printed it under their foreign affairs section. From there, the rest is history.

When I first learned the true origin of the pun, I was quite surprised to see the name Catherine

Winkworth associated with it, since I knew her already as a translator. Growing up in the Lutheran Tradition, I had seen that name as the translator for numerous beloved hymns.

So crucial was she to introducing the German hymnic tradition to the English speaking world, that she is commemorated on July 1st in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America!

And so, ora pro nobis, Catherine. 

If you're interested in Latin or ancient history, or even just an entertaining read, check out the time-travel thriller In Saecula Saeculorum. Click to learn more.

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As a sample of her mastery with words, I'll leave you with her lyrics to the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty."

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the king of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.