Translation case studies: diction

What to do about pre-scientific terms

Leeuwenhoek was describing a world for which there were not always nouns and verbs available in Dutch to describe what he saw. Sometimes he borrowed words from French; other times, he used the closest Dutch word he could find. What's a translator to do?

What the English translators did

For example, Oldenburg decided to translate Leeuwenhoek's diertgens, literally "little animals", as "animalcules", much to the amusement of people today. (See "Animalcules" under Learn more below.)


Forty years later, however, Chamberlayne made a different decision. In Letter XX of XX, Leeuwenhoek was describing the life cycle of _____. He referred to a tonnetje.

The word ‘tonnetje’ used by L. nowadays signifies the so-called pupa coarctata, i.e. the skin sloughed by the maggot and in which, in several species of Diptera, the pupa lies enclosed. In L's time the word was, among other things, also used for the cocoon of the silkworm. [S.; M.]