Adieu in the Book of Mormon

And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore…I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu. (Jacob 7:27)

Adieu? Seriously? Isn’t that French?

In the 19th century American populist worldview, France represented the luxury, high fashion, and secularism worshipped by the liberal elite. Would a 19th century American farm boy translating an ancient text into English put a French word into the mouth of a rustic holy man? Not likely. We might suspect, then, that either the text of the Book of Mormon was not translated into English by a 19th century American farm boy, or that adieu is not French.

Both suspicions may be right.

If you google ETYMOLOGY ADIEU, you will find that adieu is, in fact, a Middle English word derived from Old French. That’s Middle English, a period lasting from approximately 1100 to 1500 AD. Adieu is as much an English word as miracle (Middle English, from Old French miracle), cave (Middle English, from Old French cave), and bruit (Middle English, from Old French bruit, as used in Jeremiah 10:22). But still, adieu has an overt French flavor and would have therefore been an unlikely word choice of Joseph Smith. The use of this word makes more sense if the text that Joseph Smith saw in his seer stone had already been translated into Early Modern English by someone else — someone unencumbered by 19th century American ideas about the French. Witness accounts as well as other evidence (see the column at the right) suggests that’s indeed what happened.

Although adieu is now (and was in Joseph Smith’s day) more or less synonymous with farewell, it originally meant something more like “I commend you to God.” That older meaning actually makes more sense in the context, since Jacob had already bid his readers “farewell.”

 

 

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