I don’t think we’re particularly interested in the other person’s viewpoint. We like to listen to our own voice, to something that is familiar. If we had a real interest in the other person’s viewpoint, we would be avid readers of foreign literature in translation, but we’re not. Translated titles are supposed to make up only 3% of new publications in the U.S., according to the blog Three Percent. Attention paid to foreign titles in mainstream media is scarce. And translators put themselves at great risk in order to devote themselves to crossing that line between one culture and another.

It is an irony because the translator, who believes in intercultural understanding, is more or less forced to live on the land that separates cultures, in no man’s land. The translator is no man. They don’t exist. They don’t receive a salary, paid holidays, a pension. If they are paid (and there is often an expectation that they won’t be), they are often paid after the project is complete, begging the question, “How do they live while they are working?”

We prefer to hear our own voice and to believe that we are right. After all, what’s the alternative? The idea of believing that we are not right would so undermine us that we reject it out of hand. It cannot be. It is impossible. For us to hold on to our sanity, we have to be right.

There is now a crisis between Ukraine and Russia, a crisis that has been a long time in the making. Conflicts arise when people (because I don’t think anybody else does this) draw lines. When you draw a line, implying that you are an author, that something starts or ends with you (a false premise, we are translators, things pass through us), then you rely on two words to maintain the status quo (as you have established it): LAW and WAR. It is curious that these two words are obviously connected by the phonetic pair (pair of consonants pronounced in the same part of the mouth) l-r. The trouble is people don’t know their phonetic pairs, so they don’t see this.

I could give more examples. The reverse of LIVE is EVIL, one path open to us in this life – to do evil. But if we take the ego, “I” in English, and remove it from LIVE (that is, if we count down from “I” to “O”, from 1 to 0), we get LOVE, the other path open to us in this life. Live: evil-love. I study these connections in my book Seven Brief Lessons on Language.

The line that is the ego in English (I) is the same line that separates countries, properties, rich and poor, whatever social divide you care to think about. And where there is a line, there is conflict. Which is why the translator works so hard to engage with the other (OTHER, by the way, is connected to LOVE and THEOS), to cross that line, even though they know they cannot make a living.

I wrote an article at the time of the outbreak of the Covid pandemic about the connection between where the pandemic is said to have started, WUHAN, and the word HUMAN (turn the w upside down and rearrange the letters). Also, between COVID and VOICE (rearrange the letters and take a step in the alphabet, d-e). Human voice. Was Covid, a terrible disease causing pain and suffering in the world, meant somehow to bring us to our senses, to make us pay more attention to the vulnerable, to make us work together in the face of a common enemy? I don’t know, but the connections are there.

Now, this morning, looking at the word UKRAINE on my phone, I suddenly realized there was a very clear connection. It involves the similarity between a capital I and a lower case l. It can then be seen that UKRAINE with the letters rearranged spells NUCLEAR (c and k have the same pronunciation).

There is meaning in words, even though we don’t usually (choose to) see it. There is meaning in words, but, like all things spiritual, it is slightly hidden: a step in the alphabet (d-e), a phonetic pair (l-r), pairs of letters that are similar (i-l, m-w)… You just have to turn a corner.

Why is it that the word NUCLEAR can be found in UKRAINE? Is this a reference to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that affected not just Ukraine, but other countries as well? I certainly wouldn’t want to think that the current crisis between Ukraine and Russia could lead to nuclear war. Such an outcome would be unthinkable.

Another clear connection with UKRAINE relates to another phonetic pair: g-k. If we apply the phonetic pair g-k to the word UKRAINE, we will see that in the middle of the country is GRAIN. Two dangers have been highlighted during the conflict in Ukraine: the danger of damage to nuclear plants, and the danger to world food supplies if grain is not exported. It is interesting that both these words are found in the name of the country. And if we take away GRAIN, we are left with two letters: U-E, which could be a reference to the European Union (EU).

We need to consider the other. We need to hear the human voice, the voice of the other. And that involves not judging people on the basis of our own criteria and actually trying to get to know them, to understand their motives. That hasn’t happened very much between Ukraine, Russia and the West. Perhaps now would be a good time to start. To see what we have in common instead of spitting at each other over the fence. And to hire a translator who will enable us to hear what the other is saying.

Jonathan Dunne,

Word in Language (21): English Course (0)

In this and the next three articles I am going to look at the rules for making word connections. In this article we will look at connections between words that have the same letters, be they in the same order or in a different order. We have seen examples of these, how HUMAN is a combination of HU and MAN, for example, or LISTEN has the same letters as SILENT, but the letters have been rearranged. We have also seen contractions (I’LL-ILL, WE’LL-WELL). In this section I include words that sound the same (for example, EYE and I), also changes that involve the semi-vowels (i-j/y, u-w), the letter c (pronounced k or s) and the letters ph (pronounced f). Sometimes it is necessary to double a letter, as in the example BELIEVE-BELLY EVE, which we saw in the previous article.

I worked out these word connections simply by taking a pencil and writing down the words on a piece of paper, jumbling up the letters to see what I could find. When the words have the same letters in the same order, we need to divide them at some point to find a deeper meaning. Others are homophones (they sound the same, although they are spelt differently). We may change the letters if they are i, u, c and ph, as I mentioned above, or double a letter. You may like to have a go before looking at the connections I made, so here are the words we are going to look at that involve keeping the letters in the same order. See what you can find:


HEEL   SOLE   (homophones)


And here are the words that involve the same letters, but in a different order. Again, see what connections you can find, bearing in mind the semi-vowels i-j/y, u-w, the correspondence c-k/s and f-ph and the doubling of a letter:


CRIME   GUIDE   (i-j/y)

ANGER   BAA   BE   EARTH   GERM   POISED   SUMMER   (double letter)

Words contain meaning. This may or may not be the meaning that we give them. They have something to tell us about human life, about God, about the purpose of our existence on earth and our ultimate destination. They are encoded. Just as the body has DNA, so words have DNA. We need to put them under the microscope and to see what we can find. In this sense, language is like the human body or the environment. They reveal things on closer inspection, we discover wonders if only we pay attention. Unfortunately we spend much of our time thinking that words, like the human body, like the environment, have been put there for our use and we are far too busy to consider that they may have a meaning of their own, a message they wish to transmit, a testimony they wish to give. This is a sign of our spiritual blindness. We are born into this world physically blind, but we soon overcome this. Our spiritual blindness remains, however, and it is some time before it begins to go away. This usually coincides with a spiritual experience. We become aware of another level to existence. It isn’t just what we can see with our physical eyes, it isn’t just two- or three-dimensional. There is another level, one we hadn’t been aware of before, and this conditions our behaviour. We start to repent of our previous behaviour, when we took what was there for our own benefit and enjoyment, without a thought for the consequences. The other takes on a new importance, we understand that they are intrinsic to our salvation and deserving of our respect, they are not put there for our benefit or enjoyment, just as language, the body and the environment are not purely utilitarian things for me to exploit, for me to express my opinion, for me to get what I want. We are in a relationship, and it is that relationship with the other that will save us. Difficulties are inevitable, because the world doesn’t necessarily see things the same way we do. Some still believe we are here to make money, to make a profit, to make ourselves as comfortable as can be. For some, this existence is all there is, and their aim is to extract as much as possible. The philosophy ‘live for the day’ – carpe diem – can easily lead in this direction. But the world is a spiritual womb. We are here to learn, to grow spiritually, and this necessarily involves some suffering. We are to receive the good times joyfully, but to endure any difficulties that come our way patiently. This engenders a sense of humility. This planet wasn’t put here for my sole enjoyment and it doesn’t revolve around me, much as we may resent this. We are here to learn to love, to turn the EGO to GOD, to count down from LIVE/EVIL to LOVE, to fulfil our potential and become the person we are meant to be. The world is a spiritual nursery. And death is perhaps not the end – that is only our perspective – rather it is a second birth, a spiritual birth, when we are forced out of the spiritual womb we have been in for three score years and ten into new surroundings. Death, for me, real death, is separation from God, not the end of our physical existence on earth, which is a tunnel, an opening, a new beginning, just as the exit from our mother’s womb was.

So we may take ourselves APART, but we are still A PART. What I do influences others, and what others do influences me. This is surely obvious at the time of the Coronavirus, with which I started writing these articles. LOCAL is GLOBAL – literally, because the two words are connected by the alphabetical pair b-c, addition of g. PASSION leads to spiritual death – PASS I ON. If I indulge the passions, I will come to a spiritual dead-end and then I will have a choice: either I perform a U-turn (repentance) or I insist upon my actions (spiritual death).

Life is a pilgrimage. We are here to learn. This involves walking, placing our weight first on our HEEL and then forwards on to our SOLE. What is the outcome of this process? That we HEAL our SOUL. For this, we need help – the action of the Holy Spirit; participation in the sacraments of the Church, most notably confession and communion – we must be careful not to think we can achieve this on our own. This was the attitude of the PHARISEE: FAR I SEE. They believed more in themselves than in God, sought recognition, strict adherence to a set of rules, even if these rules were not life-giving.

But what are we to believe? The Church has held seven Ecumenical Councils to write a Creed, to decide what people must believe. This is important – to establish the tenets of faith (for example, that Christ has two natures, divine and human), as a way of averting heresy (the suggestion that Christ might be anything less than fully both, a man adopted by God or God who took on the appearance of being human). But the word DOGMA itself, if we read it in reverse, says AM GOD. A simple statement that reminds us of the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush: I AM WHO I AM (Ex 3:14).

We are sensitive, sentient creatures. We have feelings. A slight breeze, and goose pimples arise on our flesh. We are naked. Look around and see where nature seems most naked, and you might come up with DUNE, the letters of which rearranged spell NUDE. Is there any part of nature that is so bare, so open to the wind?

In Greek mythology, HADES is the place where a SHADE goes. It is the place of spiritual death, of insubstantial beings who have insisted on the road of the passions. HADES is also connected to DEATH by a step in the alphabet (s-t). It is very close to EARTH (same vowels, phonetic pair d-t, alphabetical pair r-s). We must be careful. We can find ourselves in this state of spiritual death while still on earth. The important thing is how we react. And this is where a MIRACLE is performed. We look for signs and wonders. But we are surrounded by signs and wonders every day – our own existence, the existence of others, the world we inhabit, the breath of wind, the taste of food, a sudden realization, a moment of mutual recognition, the moment when a dog on a lead freezes, his body freezes, but his ears flap in the wind, young people in the stadium – a time capsule – play football against the backdrop of a mountain on which the observatory is a golf tee. How many moments are there like this in every day – the crunch of bread, the return of someone, sitting down on a sofa to watch a film that will transport us, the sip of hot tea, the sheer beauty of a newly opened rose? The true MIRACLE, for me, is when we RECLAIM ourselves, we defeat the enemy, we snatch ourselves back from the grip of sin, we present ourselves to our Creator, we dedicate ourselves to him. We don’t look back because, if we were to return to the GARDEN OF EDEN, we would only be in DANGER OF NEED again. Looking back is not the answer. This is why NOSTALGIA spells LOST AGAIN.

We have a GUIDE in Jesus Christ. He is our Saviour. He is our friend, the one who looks at me every morning, I look at him. But at the Last Judgement, when he comes again, he will be our JUDGE. These two words are connected (i-j). We mustn’t lose hope, however, because in the CRIME itself there is MERCY. All we have to do is repent of our sins and confess them to a priest. This is what we are here for, to make spiritual progress – not to make money, not to amass possessions, but to amass spiritual wealth, the virtues. ANGER won’t serve us, bearing a grudge against our enemy; if we are not careful, our ANGER will turn to GANGRENE (I have doubled the three middle letters). ANGER is also clearly connected to CANCER (phonetic pair g-k/c).

ANGER is also connected to ANGEL (there is righteous anger and it is possible to change, just as someone with a STAIN can become a SAINT). At the Second Coming, Christ will send out each ANGEL to GLEAN the field, to gather in the weeds and the wheat (we read about this in the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13). WEED and WHEAT are connected (phonetic pair d-t, addition of h), but it is interesting that only wheat has ears. This is why Christ ends the explanation of this parable with the words, ‘Let anyone with ears listen.’

We must hope to be counted among the sheep (Mt 25:32-3). What sound does a sheep make? BAA. And what other word involves these letters? ABBA. When we are sheep in the sense that Christ speaks about them, then we form part of the Father’s flock (abba is the Aramaic word for ‘father’). But it is always possible to make a mistake, to veer off in the wrong direction. If we add the letter that represents the ego in English, I, to ‘baa’, we get ‘Baal’, the name of a false god. Even here, though, even when we make a mistake, it is possible to find help if we acknowledge our need – as in the CRIME, there is MERCY, as when instead of calling upon God, AM, we say I’M, but can always add an initial h, a small puff of wind, and say HIM, so with BAAL, if we apply the phonetic pair b-p and add the letter h again, we can make the change to ALPHA and begin again.

AM-I’M-HIM. BAA-BAAL-ALPHA. CRIME-MERCY. The world is our chance to offer repentance, to fall down and get to our feet, every day if necessary, so long as our wish is to improve, to acquire the virtues, to learn to love not just our neighbour, but our enemy as ourself. Truly to love. Without a hint of lust, of self-interest, of what is in it for me. Is it so difficult? ‘All the world’s a stage,’ wrote Shakespeare in his play As You Like It. Well, if we double the letters, we will see the EARTH is a THEATRE, thereby confirming Shakespeare’s words. We are on the stage for a while, in the womb of the theatre (don’t forget the world was created by separating the waters from the waters, Gen 1:6, it is a kind of womb), but at some point the lights will go up and we will have to leave.

This is why BE in reverse reads EBB. Like the tide. Like our breathing. It is part of life. Things come and go. We must beware of those that would do us harm, especially at this time of the Coronavirus, when a GERM would MERGE with us. Spiritually speaking, we must try to avoid these germs, to wash them off with the water of renewal.

It is like when we watch television. An EPISODE is left POISED to keep our interest.

It is like when, after nature has had the chance to REWIND during WINTER (phonetic pair d-t), we RESUME in SUMMER.

Language would teach us. It is full of information. We just have to have EYES to SEE, an EAR to HEAR, so that a SEED can be planted in the EARTH of our HEART. It’s not difficult. Not really. Every day has its moments of beauty.

In the next article, we will look at word connections made by changing the vowels and the consonants – the water and flesh of language – according to phonetics, to where they are pronounced in the mouth.

Jonathan Dunne,

Word in Language (0): Coronavirus – Human Voice

It is almost two months now since the Coronavirus has taken hold of our lives and we have been in lockdown, confined to our homes except for necessary trips to work or for food. People have fallen seriously ill, and some have died. Health workers have shown admirable courage and perseverance in the face of adversity, one of humanity’s greatest characteristics. There have undoubtedly been some positive aspects. We have had time, some of us, to recollect, to pay attention to aspects of our lives that we had perhaps neglected. Of course, no one wants this to continue for ever, but we have perhaps understood that life is not about production and movement, the earth is not an amusement park, the environment has had time to recover, CO2 emissions are down and fish have been spotted in the canals of Venice. We also have a heightened sense of our own mortality. This makes us humble and a little less proud. In a sense, we have been forced to listen, and this is important because to LISTEN you must be SILENT, you must slow down.


There have been various debates as to the cause of this outbreak: it escaped from a lab, it was a bat, it was poor hygiene in a fish market. I am not a scientist and I do not know the cause, but it seems to me that while there is always a superficial reason for something (something or someone we can blame), there is also always an underlying reason (where the blame has more perhaps to do with ourselves).


I work with word connections. Language is like the environment – there is much more to it than may initially appear to be the case. We treat them both two-dimensionally, as having been put there for our own use. But they have a deeper meaning, hidden secrets which only come to light when we stop to pay attention, when we look at them less for our own profit (in this case we see nothing at all) and more for what they themselves might have to say. Scientists examine life under the microscope, they observe and take notes, hidden wonders come to view that may have something to tell us about the way we lead our lives.


Language is just the same. Words have their own meaning, not just the meaning we would give them. And this hidden meaning can be very illuminating. This hidden meaning can be unearthed in the following ways: by rearranging the letters (sometimes reading them back to front) and by making changes to the letters according to where in the mouth they are pronounced (phonetics), according to their position in the alphabet and according to their appearance (a letter may be turned upside down, for example).


It seems remarkable to me that no one has noticed the name of the city where the virus began, WUHAN in China – if we rearrange the letters and turn the W upside down – spells HUMAN. I saw a video of some inhabitants of Wuhan describing their experience of the lockdown, and they were very much like anybody else – human beings with their family ties, their hopes and aspirations, their sense of humour, their sense of right and wrong. Isn’t that what defines us? Hasn’t the virus to some extent reminded us of what we hold in common?


The Coronavirus is often referred to by another name: COVID-19. Now this time instead of paying attention to the appearance of the letters, we are going to take a step in the alphabet. If we change one of these letters according to its position in the alphabet – and of course rearrange the letters – we get VOICE. So perhaps the underlying reason for the Coronavirus is to make us hear the human voice, to hear human need.


You may think I’m making this up. Well, I’ve worked with language long enough to know that these are not isolated examples. Let us look at the word VIRUS. I wonder if it reminds you of any other word in the English language. I have mentioned three ways of making word connections – it is also possible to repeat a letter or to add a letter (especially a final e). You will then see that VIRUS is in SURVIVE – the purpose of the virus is to survive, and our purpose, when we catch the virus, is also to survive. But surviving, as any adult will tell you, is not always easy.


Now here comes the difficult part, because you cannot make word connections without knowing your phonetic pairs – pairs of consonants that are pronounced in the same part of the mouth. One such pair is f-v  – both these letters are pronounced with the teeth on your lower lip, the only difference is that f is voiceless and v is voiced (you feel a vibration in your throat when you say it).


If we apply this pair f-v, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see that SURVIVE contains I SUFFER. Well, yes, we do suffer in this life, but isn’t that the point somehow – that we are meant to rein in the ego, not to succumb to our selfish desires, not to want everything for ourselves, but to love the other? To love the other – ah, there is the secret! Would it surprise you if I told you these two words, LOVE and OTHER, are connected?


The vowels, o and e, are the same. Then there is the phonetic pair l-r (both these letters are pronounced with the tongue against the roof of the mouth), and the alphabetical pair t-v (we take a step in the alphabet, as we did before with d-e in COVID, but in this instance we miss out the intervening vowel, u). After that, all we have to do is add the letter h, which represents breath; h and e are the most commonly added letters.


I think the Coronavirus has brought out much love for the other in society. While there has been much suffering, there has also been great appreciation for the work carried out by doctors, nurses, shop staff, factory workers, waste collectors, couriers… The people who help our lives to function. In a way, with the Coronavirus, life has been stripped down to its bare necessities, to what is necessary. This doesn’t mean we want to continue in this way – we don’t – but it does remind us of something important. Love for the other.


So language can be seen to confirm what many people have felt – that in this difficult time it is important to have respect and love for the other, to appreciate what people do to make our lives better, to hear the human voice of the other – not to see people as two-dimensional, as put there for our own use (like language or the environment), but rather as human beings with their own intrinsic value. This seems to me to be the experience of the vast majority of the human race. Language is just confirming it.


Jonathan Dunne,