The dangers of Google Translate Latin

Blogosphere, pardon me while I get really pedantic for a short bit.  Some of you may be familiar with Phil Wickham: in fact I hope you are!  He’s one of a slew of quite talented worship singers.  My wife and I have both greatly enjoyed his music over the years.  We own most of his CDs, and I’m sure we’ll purchase his next one soon (due out 9/24).  My wife recently told me that the t shirt for his new album had Latin on it, so I asked her to read it to me.  It didn’t seem right, so I asked her to send me a photo of the shirt.  The shirt, which otherwise looks quite nice, reads Surgamus et ascensionem, which doesn’t make much sense in Latin.  The et, in particular, is out of place here.  Though it usually means “and”, in this case, we have to understand it adverbially.  “Let us raise even the ascension” or “Let us elevate even the ascension” is about the best I can come up with; “Let us make even the ascent” might work too.  Dropping the et would give us something like “let us go up to the ascension,” or “let us make the ascent,” which is not bad.  Surgamus ad ascensionem might work even better “let us rise to the ascension,” which has nice resonances with the Psalms of Ascent.  

So then, where did surgamus et ascensionem come from?  I suspect Google Translate was the culprit here. “Let us start the ascension” spits out surgamus et ascensionem.  The original phrase might have been different, but I’d be quite surprised if Google Translate wasn’t responsible for this error latinitatis.  If “let’s start the ascent” is the intended meaning (which seems like a good thing to put on a t shirt!), then I’d render it something like, incipiamus ascensionem, though I’m sure there are other good possibilities.  

Let this then serve as a warning!  Google Translate is liable bungle most any translation, not least something into an ancient language.  If you are seeking something for a fixed medium (tatoo, tee shirt, etc.), then you’d do well to ask someone who has studied the language in question.  My department actually has a process for this:  If you’re looking for a short phrase in Latin, there’s plenty of graduate students like me who’d be happy to help.

ἐν αὐτῷ,

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