Controversy, or, Stirring it

Published on by Marshmuchmulcher

Today we will look at DOPY WORDS.


You understand, I am sure, dear Brethren, our occasional dilemma in translating words from Masonic  French  into Masonic English on this blog for your benefit . But you may not quite realize the difficulty we have in choosing the sort of English words most appropriate.

Translation of the above in “good” English into vernacular: do you realize how  tough it is having to mince French meat to make English sausages?


Well, for the sake of controversy (sorry, “stirring it”) I am going to opt for the more vernacular style.

But, before you ever get to the problem of what words to use to translate a French word, you’ve got to know whether the very concept of what you are talking about will cross the Channel recognizably; like  “une bonne baguette croustillante”, or “un biftek saignant”. Or “l’actuel Président” or “his eventual fate”. Translate to score zero points as “actual President” and “son sort éventuel”. OK, I know I am dealing with a bunch if bilingual brothers who got it right by seeing we are speaking here of the “current President” and “son sort ultime”. Unfortunately, not all our dignitaries are aware of the difference.

But some difficulties hide away far more insidiously under innocent looking similarity. To call them “faux amis” or “faux frères” is an understatement. They are treacherous because they represent treacherous territories.

Such are “profane” and “spiritualité”, two words that cannot cross the Channel unscathed. Dopy words, I feel tempted to say.

Words are not dopy, only the people who use them wrongly.

But translating from one language to another multiplies considerably the chances of finding words used dopily.

Well, having said the long-winded bit, I will now come briefly to the point.

Profane is an English word, but I have very rarely seen it used in English Masonic usage as it is constantly in French: it is the everyday French Masonic word for everything non-masonic. “A Profane  will be heard under the hoodwink” (i.e. a candidate), “in his profane life”(outside of masonry) and, horror of horrors, “profane considerations” meaning simply non-masonic ones. Mr Obama is seriously suspected of being “profane”.

The dopiest notion of all, however, in my opinion  is the very French conviction that masonry is spiritual. Everything good about masonry, in French, has to be “spirituel”. The Craft, of course, with its working tools, has to be spiritual. Its leaders seem at present to be neglectful of our essential spirituality, and candidates from whatever walk of life are expected to express an interest in entering a new “spiritual” approach to life.

Well, I contend, rightly or wrongly that masonry in the UK  is about learning rituals and floor work and giving to charity and that English masons have not the slightest concern for the matter or gist of spirituality. Like the French word for a Masonic order “Obedience”, which in England refers to matters of the established religions, “spiritualité” is also a question of religion, or “religiosity”. There are Masonic orders (in both France and the UK) that demand membership of a given faith and that take a dip regularly into spiritual aspects of their rituals.  They are usually structured into vertical hierarchies of degrees or orders. Here they are called Rites in France. Spirituality for them is an acknowledged aspect of their research. But to talk of the spirituality of the work in lodge rankles hard with me, especially if I have to translate it into English. “Masonic spirit” is the best I can find. Of course, it is not a true translation. But at least it is not pure humbug.

Looking forward to your disagreement!    

Comment on this post

John Bull 02/10/2011 08:27


Muchmarshmulcher is right to debunk all this spiritual waffle especially when it is quite hypocritical, like the Grand Master clling himself the "Spiritual Guide". That is laughable. But let's be
carefuk we don't go too far the other way; I mean, we are not a whist club or boy scouts or the T.A. Even in the first degree, we can feel that sort of feeling when we are together that is not
anything ordinary, and we always evoke the blessing of the GAOTU. I think it is right that candidates should know that there is something special of that sort before they ask to join a lodge. John
Bull


big ben 02/09/2011 13:39


thank you for these precisions dear marschmuchmulcher. I must tell you that here we prefer the BBC english to the Brixton english.

translation of idioms is not obvious.

once I asked to an english B : how do you translate savoir-vivre in english. He replied: you can't it doesn't exist.

as follows, for masonic idioms, it's not obvious.

for instance:

Fraternity = picking up in BB money-bag, money for business of a few BB.

Ritual = words repeated without any sense excepted the one of maintaining BB in the dark.

and son on...