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.;







For another example, Chamberlayne commented on the Dutch word trekker.

Hexham's 1675 Dutch-English dictionary: Trecker, Drawer, Haler, or Puller

Sewel's 1735 Dutch-English dictionary: TREKKER (M.), a Drawer, puller. een Draad-trekker, a Wire-drawer. een Tand-trekker, a Tooth-drawer.

What to call it, that thing between a muscle and bone?

At first, Leeuwenhoek used the word tendo at first. Until using trekker in 1693, Leeuwenhoek used tendo, which is in neither Hexham’s or Sewel’s dictionaries, in these early letters, where it was translated [ -- in adb -- check philtr ] as “tendon”:

striemtgens - Hexham doesn't have it. Sewell 1691: STREEM,  the Mark of a stripe

Leeuwenhoek’s first use of trekker came in Letter 76 of October 15, 1693, to members of the Royal Society. Leeuwenhoek used the phrase Tendo of Trekker, which was translated as “Tendon or Mover” with a footnote: Tendo of Trekker, pees of spier. tendon or muscle. Later in the letter, trekker, used alone, is translated as “tendon”.

In his 1675 dictionary, Henry Hexham defined the Dutch pees as a “bow string or harp string”. He had no entry for the English “tendon”. By 1735, the definition had changed. Sewell defined pees as “a tendon” and the reverse in the English section.


Letter 6 of September 7, 1674 (AB 11) to Henry Oldenburg but that passage was not included in the Philosophical Transactions article, More Observations from Mr. Leewenhook, in a Letter of Sept. 7, 1674. sent to the Publisher    1674    9    108    178

Letter 14 of February 22, 1676 (AB 21) to Henry Oldenburg

Letter 35 of March 3, 1682 (AB 67) to Robert Hooke

Letter 37 of January 22, 1683 (AB 70) to Christopher Wren. “tendon” was included in Philosophical Transactions article, An Abstract of a Letter from Mr. Anthony Leewenhoeck Writ to Sir C. W. Jan. 22. 1682/3 from Delft    1683    13    145    74-81

Letter 68 of November 27, 1691 (AB 116) to members of the Royal Society

During that early period, in Letter 33 of November 12, 1680 (AB 65) to Robert Hooke, Leeuwenhoek used senuwen, literally sinews, which was also translated as tendons.

After using trekker once in 1693, Leeuwenhoek continued to use tendo in Letter 82 and Letter 83 in  April 1694 (AB 136, 137), both addressed to the Royal Society. In the latter met groote senuwen of Tendo was translated large sinews or Tendons.

Part of a Letter of Mr Anthony van Leuwenhoeck, F. R. S. concerning Excrescencies Growing on Willow Leaves, etc    1701    22    269    786-792

Part of a Letter from Mr Anthony Van Lewuenhoek, Dated Delft 15. April 1701. N. S. concerning the Spawn of Codfisb, etc.    1701    22    270    821-824

All of the above letters were addressed to people in London, and in only these letters did Leeuwenhoek use the Dutch tendo.

Letter 85 of November 30, 1694 (AB 140) to Peter Rabus was the next time that Leeuwenhoek used trekker, in the phrase gezigt-zenuwe en de trekkers van onze Oogen, translated as “the optic nerves and the muscles of our Eyes”.

In Letter 94 of August 20, 1695 (AB 155) to Frederik Adriaan van Reede van Renswoude, Leeuwenhoek wrote of sinews or bony parts of this wing, for which the footnote read, “sinews [ital], properly speaking: ‘tendons’.”

In Letter 99 of March 8, 1696 (AB 165) to Nicolaas Witsen, he used zenuwen, translated as sinews with the footnote: “sinews: properly speaking: tendons”

He used trekkers next in Letter 111 of May 9, 1698 (AB 193) to the Royal Society: de twee trekkers, translated the two tendons. fte. trekkers, pezen

In Letter 123 of January 14, 1700 (AB 208) to Nicolaas Bogaert van Belois, he used tendo, translated as tendon.

Back in the 1670’s, Henry Oldenburg set the standard, translating tendo as tendon. The translators for Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters did the same for the letters that had not been sent to the Royal Society.

John Chamberlayne assumed the duties of Dutch translator in mid-1700. In Letter 138 of June 21, 1701 (AB 226) to the Royal Society, Leeuwenhoek wrote, de Gout draat trekkers, which Chamberlayne translated as “gold-wire drawers”.

Letter No. 265
1 June 1706
Addressed to: the Royal Society. -- tendo, tendon, with footnote tendo, pees.

BRIEF No. 307 [XI] 21 AUGUSTUS 1714

BRIEF No. 309 [XIII] 4 NOVEMBER 1714

BRIEF No. 310 [XIV] 9 NOVEMBER 1714

BRIEF No. 311 [XV] 20 NOVEMBER 1714


trekkers, tendenes34m

de tendenes, trekkers

Brief No. 226 [138] 21 Juni 1701 Gericht aan: de Royal Society.