William Laughton Lorimer (trans.) – The New Testament in Scots (1983)
- Niall O'Gallagher
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of All Time
When the Scots Reformers adopted an English translation of the Bible, a serious blow was dealt to the status of the Scots language which was increasingly banished from the realms of learning and official culture it had occupied since the Middle Ages. While poetry and song in Scots continued to thrive, the language had to wait until the late years of the 20th century for a monumental work of prose which would give the Word of God a Scots accent.
Lorimer's Scots, which varies to reflect the styles of the New Testament's many authors, takes its energy from both speech and scholarship. A good translation can make a familiar text seem fresh again, invigorating the source as well as the target language. Lorimer's New Testament does this with breathtaking regularity. Sometimes verses take on a new pithiness, such as when Jesus tells his disciples that 'ye canna sair God an gowd baith'. Elsewhere, the descriptive power of Scots vocabulary paints biblical characters in bright colours. St Mark's description of John the Baptist gives a sense of Lorimer's exuberant translation: 'John wis cleadit in a raploch coat o caumel's hair an hed a lethern girth about his weyst, an locusts an foggie-bees' hinnie wis aa his fairin'.
Forget a meek and mild Jesus who never breaks into a sweat. In Lorimer's version Jesus speaks with vernacular vigour, exclaiming: 'Hou lang maun I ey thole ye?' to the assembled crowd. Sometimes the result is simply stunning. Consider Lorimer's rendering of the Beatitudes: 'Hou happie the dowff an dowie for they will be comfortit!' From 'Matthew' to 'Revelations', this is a work of verbal energy and poetic beauty which is without doubt one of the greatest achievements in 20th century Scottish writing.
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