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Lost in Translation: Le Morning Glory

These days, some people view Morning Glory flowers as a weed, but back in the 1800's, they were deemed a thing of beauty. Let's look at an excerpt from a book intended for a French-Canadian audience: Le Livre de Ménage, Recettes Utiles par Mme. Winslow, 1869 (translated as The Household Book, Useful Recipes by Mrs. Winslow in 1869).

Morning Glory Flower

Madame Winslow encouraged readers to view the Morning Glory as a flower brightening any day, even indoors in the winter. Here is her plan, originally written in a French language paragraph, but here it is given in numbered steps for clarity. Then, it is loosely translated in five steps for English readers:

  1. Le Morning Glory peut se propager à la perfection pendant l'hiver dans les fenêtres des salons ou le soleil donne.

  2. Il y fleurit et y répond son odeur naturelle, et la delicate petite vigne parcourera les fenêtres en tous sens.

  3. Un vase suspendu est ce qu'il y a de mieux pour cette plante.

  4. Suspendez, au moyen d'un fil, un gland de chêne de manière à ce qu'il touche presque l'eau contennue dans un verre (un verre à hyacinthe est peut-être co qu'il y a de mieux pour cela).

  5. Laissez-le vase sur la cheminée pendant huit ou dix semaines (plus ou moins), sans le déranger, excepté pour pourvoir à l'évaporation de l'eau, et le gland s'ouvrira, une racine s'enfoucera dans l'eau et un petite tige montera vers le haut du vase en rouvrant ses jolies petites feuilles vertes, vous donnaut ainsi le spectacle d'un chêne véritable, plein de vie et de sante; dans votre appartement.

English translation:

  1. Morning Glory can be propagated perfectly during winter in living room windows where the sun shines.

  2. It blooms there and responds with its natural scent, and the delicate little vine will run through the windows in all directions.

  3. A hanging vase is the best for this plant.

  4. Hang an oak acorn with a string so that it almost touches the water in a glass (a hyacinth glass is perhaps best for this).

  5. Leave the vase on the fireplace for 8 or 10 weeks (more or less), without disturbing it, except to see to the evaporation of the water, and the acorn will open, a root will burrow into the water and a small stem will rise to the top of the vase, reopening its pretty little green leaves, thus giving you the spectacle of a real oak, full of life and health, in your apartment.

Something seems odd here. It seems as though the passage begins talking about the Morning Glory vine, but it steers toward oak acorns in steps 4 and 5. Should I be surprised, though? After all, Mrs. Winslow was known for a popular "soothing syrup" for cranky children during the late 1800's to the early 1900's, when it was finally outlawed! Seems the American Medical Association was concerned about it having morphine and all. Yet, millions of bottles were sold, thanks to savvy marketing campaigns targeting audiences who spoke English, German, and French.

So, what is happening here? Did someone originally translate this passage incorrectly? Is something missing? Are Morning Glory seeds synonymous with the term for oak acorns in Québec, but not France? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated, so feel free to contact me if you know the answer!


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