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Book of Mormon/Language/"Adieu"
The French word "adieu" in the Book of Mormon
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Question: Why is the French word "adieu" in the Book of Mormon?
The word "adieu" was in common use in English in Joseph Smith's era
Adieu is simply one English word among many in the Book of Mormon translation. It was in common use among Latter-day Saints and others in Joseph's era. The word's French associations are simply more familiar to the modern reader. Joseph was inspired to select the most appropriate word to use in this situation, and the word "adieu" (like the Spanish equivalent "adios" or "a Dios") means "to God". In the final analysis, the presence of the word "adieu" in the English translation of the Book of Mormon cannot be construed to indicate anything beyond the fact that Jacob intended to communicate "farewell forever, or until we meet God."
There was neither English nor French on the plates
The English Book of Mormon is a translation. This means that it is no more likely that the word adieu appeared on the plates than did the words yea, beginning, or sword. Except for proper nouns and a few other possibly transliterated nouns, no word that appears in the English version of the Book of Mormon can be said to have been on the ancient Nephite plates. Similarly, the phrase "and it came to pass" never appeared anywhere on the Nephite plates. Whatever character, word, or phrase that had been engraved on the plates was translated by Joseph Smith into what he felt was an approximate equivalent in English.
Despite the fact that the word adieu appears in the English translation of the Book of Mormon, the word adieu was certainly not known to any Book of Mormon writer, the word adieu was never used by any Book of Mormon writer, and the word adieu did not appear anywhere on the Nephite plates.
A translation can legitimately use words from many languages
The goal of a translation is to take a text written in one language and to make it understandable to someone who does not understand that language. Anyone who has had the need to translate knows that frequently there is no way to convey all of the meanings, nuances, and subtleties of the original text in the new language. Translators are free to select words and phrases that they feel best convey the original meaning and will best be understood by the readers of the translation.
For example, it would be perfectly acceptable for a translation from Japanese to English to include the non-English phrases ad hoc, hoi polloi, or savoir faire if those phrases seem to properly convey the original meaning and if the translator believes that readers will understand them.
Adieu is Joseph's translation of a concept expressed by Jacob. Adieu implies "farewell until we meet with God," a fitting finale to Jacob's testimony and writing.
The appearance of non-English words (if there are any) in the Book of Mormon has absolutely no bearing on whether the Book of Mormon is authentic or whether the translation was properly done, and the presence of non-English words in the translated text would not imply that those non-English words appeared in the original text on the Nephite plates.
Adieu was in common usage a an English word
There is a common misunderstanding among some critics of the Book of Mormon that the word adieu is not an English word. This is not true. The problem stems from the fact that adieu is both an English word and a French word, and most English speakers are more familiar with its use in a French context.
Adieu is a perfectly good English word that has appeared in English dictionaries, English literature, and in common English usage from long before Joseph Smith to the present. Adieu entered the English language in the 14th century. It entered from Middle French, not modern French, and it has been part of English for approximately 800 years. Adieu has been part of the English language longer than the word banquet, which is also a word in modern French, but banquet entered the English language only in the 15th century. Adieu is no less English than commence, nation, psychology, Bible, vision, or any other word that can be traced back to Latin, Greek, German, French, Spanish, or any other language.
The presence of adieu is no more a challenge to the historicity and authenticity of the Book of Mormon than the 36 uses of banquet in the NIV is a challenge to the historicity and authenticity of the Bible.
There are acceptable words that match "adieu" in Hebrew
We should also remember that "adieu" was a translation of a reformed Egyptian (Mormon 9:32) equivalent to a Hebrew word used in 544 B.C. The Hebrew word "Lehitra'ot" has essentially the same meaning as the word "adieu". Those who criticize Joseph Smith for using a French word must, in fairness, also criticize King James translators for using French words such as tache (Ex 26:6, 11), laver (Ex 30:18,28), and bruit (Jer 10:22; Nah 3:19) which were derived from French words meaning mark, wash, and noise. Should we delete them because they are no longer in current use in the English language today?
French at the time of Christ?
In 1737, William Whiston (1667-1752) produced a translation of The Life of Flavius Josephus, written by a Jew born in Jerusalem in A.D. 37. Whiston's translation reads, in part:
Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records, and so bid adieu to those who calumniate me... off-site
Presumably, the critics would have us believe that Whiston is claiming that Josephus, a first century Jew, spoke French (a language not yet invented) because he uses the term adieu?
Mark Twain used the word "adieu"
Consider the following letter written by Mark Twain on Nov. 20, 1905. Samuel Clemens was certainly not French!
J. H. Todd 1212 Webster Street San Francisco, Cal.
Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good & exhibits considerable character, & there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, & scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter & your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; & always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded & passed & I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, & enter swiftly into the damnation which you & all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned & do so richly deserve.
Adieu, adieu, adieu !
Chaucer used the word "adieu"
Geoffrey Chaucer, often regarded as the father of English literature, used adieu around 1374:
And said, he wold in trouthe alwey hym holde, And his adew [adieu] made (Troilus and Criseyde 2:1084).
Shakespeare used the word "adieu" frequently in his plays
William Shakespeare is nothing if not an English writer. He uses adieu frequently in his plays:
- Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5
- GHOST:Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me. off-site
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 3
- LAUNCELOT Adieu! tears exhibit my tongue. Most beautiful/ pagan, most sweet Jew! off-site
- Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5
- ROMEO: Dry sorrow drinks our blood. Adieu, adieu! off-site
- The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, Scene 1
- NYM: Adieu. I love not the humour of bread and cheese,/ and there's the humour of it. Adieu.
There are over a hundred other examples. off-site
The original draft of the Declaration of Independence included the word "adieu"
Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence read, in part (beginning shown in image by blue underline):
...be it so, since they will have it: the road to glory & happiness is open to us too; we will climb it in a separate state, and acquiesce in the necessity which pronounces our everlasting Adieu!
Jefferson later crossed out "everlasting Adieu," and replaced it with "eternal separation."
Noah Webster's dictionary contains a definition for the word "adieu"
Noah Webster's 1828 American dictionary demonstrates that adieu was perfectly good English the year prior to the Book of Mormon's translation:
- Farewell; an expression of kind wishes at the parting of friends.
ADIEU', n. A farewell, or commendation to the care of God; as an everlasting adieu.
It should be noted that the word adieu appears in nearly every modern English dictionary, and that although its etymology may be listed as being from Middle French, the word itself is not indicated as being a non-English word.
John and Charles Wesley used "adieu" in some of their hymns
The Wesley brothers, founders of Methodism, used adieu in some of their hymns:
- Hymn 285
- I'll bid this world of noise and show/ With all its glittering snares, adieu! off-site
- Hymn 809
- VAIN, delusive world, adieu... off-site
Furthermore, John Wesley was fond of adieu, using it many times in his personal letters. A few examples follow; more are available off-site
- 5 January 1763 to Charles Wesley
- "We join in love to you both. My wife gains ground. She is quite peaceable and loving to all. Adieu!" off-site
- 17 May 1742 to Charles Wesley
- Let all the brethren pray for me. Adieu! off-site
- 15 December 1772 to Charles Wesley
- My love to all. Adieu! off-site
- 16 December 1772 to Mrs. Bennis
- My dear sister, adieu off-site
Irenaeus - French in the 1st Century?
Speaking after quoting Deuteronomy 33:9, the early Christian author Irenaeus (A.D. 115–202) had his ancient writings translated as follows:
- But who are they that have left father and mother, and have said adieu to all their neighbours, on account of the word of God and His covenant, unless the disciples of the Lord?
Is this a legitimate translation, or was Irenaeus non-existent and the translator a fraud for using "adieu"?
The Oxford English Dictionary lists a variety of English authors who have used "adieu" in its various senses:
- 1413 LYDG. Pylgr. Sowle II. lxv. (1859) 59, I bad hym adyeu.
- 1513 DOUGLAS Æneis I. vi. 174 Thus he repreuis, bot sche is went adew.
- 1575 CHURCHYARD Chippes (1817) 151 And set the world agoing once adue It is mutch like a streame that hath no stay.
- 1592 WARNER Albion's Eng. VIII. xl. (1612) 196 Their eies..now looke their last adew.
- 1602 CAREW Cornwall 111a, Shepherd adiews his swymming flocke, The Hinde his whelmed haruest hope.
- 1624 H. SMITH 6 Serm. 11 Bid conscience adiewe. 1771 Junius Lett. xlii. 221 The king..bids adieu to amicable negociation.
- 1653 A. WILSON James I, 251 The Queen spoke her own Adieu in French.
- 1702 POPE Sappho 111 Sure 'twas not much to bid one kind adieu.
- c1815 JANE AUSTEN Northang. Abb. (1833) I. xv. 98 His adieus were not long.
- 1818 SCOTT Hrt. Midl. (1873) 119 The old man arose and bid them adieu.
- 1855 TENNYSON Daisy 85 What more? we took our last adieu.
Use of the word "adieu" among early Latter-day Saints
Closer to home, hymn #52 (penned by a non-LDS author) was collected by Emma Smith for the use of the Church. In this hymn, adieu is used twice in the first line:
- Adieu, my dear brethren adieu,
- Reluctant we give you the hand,
- No more to assemble with you,
- Till we on mount Zion shall stand.
Clearly, this was a word familiar to Joseph and his contemporaries. The Church's Times and Seasons periodical used the word 19 times.
Use of the word "adieu" among Non-LDS Contemporaries
Emma Smith's second husband, Lewis Bidamon, was certainly not LDS. His letters reveal that his spelling is not terribly sophisticated. Yet, even he was very comfortable using the phrase "adieu," as in this letter to Emma:
Adeau, dear Emma, for the present. Give my warmest affections to the children and all inquireing friends, and curses to my enmeys!
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Daniel H. Ludlow, "A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon”, p. 163
- Thomas Jefferson, "original Rough draght," The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 1:1760-1776 (Princeton University Press, 1950), 423–428. off-site
- Editorial Note, "Jefferson's 'original Rough draught,' of the Declaration of Independence," (Princeton University Press, 2004), 6, footnote 16. off-site
- John Wesley, A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Book Room, 1889 ), #285, #809.
- Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in book 4 chap. 8 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:471. ANF ToC off-site This volume
- Emma Smith, A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints Hymn 52, (Kirtland, Ohio: F. G. Williams & co., 1835), 68.
- Lewis Bidamon to Emma Smith Bidamon, 20 April 1850, RLDS Archives; cited in Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 257. Spelling as original, italics added.
Compare: Jerald and Sandra Tanner have a variant on this old anti-Mormon favorite, complaining about "Greek words" like "alpha and omega". The same special pleading and question-begging occurs there.
Best articles to read next
The best article(s) to read next on this topic is/are:
- "How is it that the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob ends his account with the French word 'adieu'?", farms.byu.edu (accessed 14 June 2006). off-site
- Jeff Lindsay, "Why does the Book of Jacob end with a French word?", lightplanet.com (accessed 14 June 2006). off-site
- Edward J. Brandt, "Why are the words adieu, bible, and baptize in the Book of Mormon? These words weren't known in Book of Mormon times," Ensign (October 1985), 17. off-site