Sometimes, a misunderstanding between two people can start with just a few words. If you met your great-grandfather today, you wouldn’t even speak the same English.
Take, for example, this advertisement from The Jewish Chronicle of October 1867. It’s Autumn. The leaves are falling, the cold is growing – and remember, there isn’t any central heating
|For Clothing, Maintaining, and Providing an Asylum for Aged and Decayed Tradesmen. Notice is hereby given, that there are at present VACANCIES for TWO MEN as INMATES.|
In today’s English:
|HAND-IN-HAND CARE HOME|
|For giving Clothes, Care and a Roof above the heads of Old and Infirm Salesmen. We have PLACE for TWO MEN to stay at the Care Home.|
So, if you are above retirement age, your great-grandparent might call you ‘aged and decayed’. Don’t start a fight, it’s just words. You don’t speak the same English.
Quick! How do you spell ‘crude’? If I lived 100 years ago, Microsoft Word would have underlined that spelling in red. It was spelt crood, as in:
|[excerpt from The Jewish Chronicle, 6th January 1871]|
|These inscriptions, set out in crood straight lines, look like the repetition of various alphabetical characters bearing -some of them- a striking likeness to later Hebrew, but, unhappily undecipherable.|
(What do you say? They didn’t have spell-check? Oh well… it was an odd world.)
So let’s say you are interested in applying to live in the Hand-In-Hand Care Home. All you need to do is:
|Further information may be had by applying to the secretary, 37, Duke-Street. Aldgate, E.C., who will deliver blank petitions which must be filled up and returned to him on or before the 11th November.|
Translation: Send a letter to the Secretary, and he’ll send you a form to fill out.
They used more words than we do, and longer, more educated-sounding words too. Read this article in The Jewish Chronicle, 14th November, 1856. Do you think they had word limits in those days?
|CONFLAGRATION AT LARISSA|
|A statement has been laid before us with the request of publishing it, dated London, and signed: David Angel, Rabbi of Larissa, in Turkey, the contents of which, translated from the Hebrew, are the following :—My object in coming to London is to acquaint our brethren with the great calamity which has befallen the aforenamed city, half of it having been burnt down, comprising all synagogues, and schools, so that we have no place to dwell in, and are reduced to great poverty.|
And in Crystal Clear English:
|FIRE AT LARISSA|
|We got a letter from David Angel, the Rabbi of Larissa, Turkey. He is in London to collect funds for his community. Here is the translated letter: I came to London to tell you about the disaster that struck Larissa. A fire burnt down half the town, including all synagogues and schools, and now we have no place to live, and are very poor. So please donate as much as you can.|
So even if your ancestors lived in England, there’s no guarantee that you would be able to understand their English. Their accent was probably different too.
We have a time-machine. It’s called The Jewish Chronicle archives, and I’m your interpreter. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s a long ride.