WikiPOBia:Guide for the Perplexed

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A Guide for the Perplexed

Translations of All Non-English Phrases in Patrick O'Brian's Sea-Tales

1st Alphabetic Edition
edited by Anthony Gary Brown
© 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004


The Translators

The Chief Translators

The work of translating was a cooperative effort, and relatively little is the work of a single hand. The chief translators, with their special expertises, are:

  • David Bird -- Latin, Greek
  • Gary Brown -- French, Italian, Latin; Editor
  • Anna Ravano -- Italian, Latin, French, Spanish
  • Francis Miles -- a multi-linguist who contributed extensively to the 2002 revision of the 1996 original

Additional Translators

In addition, the 2002 revision could not have proceeded without the extensive research help of the following:

  • E.K.B.
  • Jeffrey Charles
  • Susan Wenger
  • Isabelle Hayes
  • Bruce Trinque
  • Adam Quinan
  • Rowen84
  • Lois Montbertrand
  • Samuel Bostock

Folks Who Have Helped Out: Roll of Honour

(Occasional Contributors, Correctors and Omission-Spotters, in random order)

Gibbons Burke (with especial thanks for his expertise and labour in attending to the HTML code for this site); Cathal O'Brien; Richard Ellis; Ed Kane; Allan Janus; Jack Merton; Randy Johnson; Deborah Whitman; Scott Powell; Philip Anderson; Adam Quinan; Richard Benedict; Elisabeth Shields; Gerry Strey; Eldad Ganin; Rafael Landin; Ema Nemes; Tim Sterrett; Don Goyette; Donal O'Sullivan; Richard Ward; Alex Frakt; Eric Raymond; David Van Baak; Roger Giner-Sorolla ; Richard Ward; Bob Frewen; Andy Evans; Pierangelo Celle; Mary Stolzi; Chris Moseley; Francis Miles; Bob Bridges; Juan Francisco Castilla Conejo; Don Seltzer; Lindsay Hubert.

In addition, the following helped out greatly with the 2002 revision of the site; indeed Your Editor could not have proceeded without them -- E.K.B., Jeffrey Charles, Susan Wenger, Isabelle Hayes, Bruce Trinque, Adam Quinan, Rowen84, Lois Montbertrand, Samuel Bostock, Bill Nyden.


If you've ever been perplexed by Patrick O'Brian's flow of Latin, French, Irish, Greek, and Spanish (not to talk of Catalan, Turkish, Polynesian and a few other tongues) then here, we hope, is your essential vade mecum. Accurate translations of all - well, almost all - the 'foreign' in O'Brian, easy as kiss-my-hand.

The page references are all to the Norton first USA editions (which are identical to all but the earliest UK Collins/Fontana first editions). We've included all 20 Aubrey-Maturin books, from Master and Commander through to Blue at the Mizzen, and added the early sea-tales The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore at the end.

Our General Guidelines

  • We have attempted literal, even pedantic, accuracy rather than literary elegance (which we happily leave to O'Brian). We believe that whilst O'Brian's readers may occasionally need assistance with the words themselves, they seldom need assistance with the wider meaning. To this end we have tried to provide English translations that follow the word order of the foreign original, even at the risk of some stiffness of expression. However we have occasionally made notes on the context of the phrase where a literal translation either remains obscure or has proved impossible
  • We have omitted most medical and botanical terms, where literal translation is so often unhelpful even when possible.
  • We have omitted most single 'foreign' words that can be found in a decent English dictionary
  • Almost all 'foreign looking' words that you cannot find here in 'Perplexed' are in fact archaic English and can thus be found in decent dictionaries
  • We have translated even those passages that O'Brian himself translates, in these cases being particularly literal in our contribution
  • Where we don't know the meaning for sure, we have tried to avoid guesswork. We rely on you to help us out!
  • We have not attempted to draw attention to every single typo in the published novels, although they are common in the 'foreign'. However many of Aubrey's errors are, of course, both deliberate and witty on O'Brian's part - we have usually drawn attention to these. Also, note that O'Brian's French is often highly idiomatic, with the spelling itself capturing how everyday, rapid and casual French is spoken.

Note: Larry Breed has started a new project identifying slips and typos in the printed O'Brian works: Errata in the Aubrey/Maturin Canon. Larry welcomes contributions from readers.


  • L ..........Latin
  • F .........French
  • E .........English
  • S .........Spanish
  • It .........Italian
  • Ir .........Irish Gaelic
  • Scots...Scots Dialect
  • Gk .......Greek
  • Lit: .....Literally

The Books

  • M&C -- Master and Commander (1969)
  • PC -- Post Captain (1972)
  • HMS -- HMS Surprise (1973)
  • TMC -- The Mauritius Command (1977)
  • DI -- Desolation Island (1978)
  • FW -- The Fortune of War (1979)
  • SM -- The Surgeon's Mate (1980)
  • IM -- The Ionian Mission (1981)
  • TH -- Treason's Harbour (1983)
  • FSW -- The Far Side of the World (1984)
  • RM -- The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
  • LM -- The Letter of Marque (1988)
  • TGS -- The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989)
  • NC -- The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)
  • C/T -- Clarissa Oakes (UK title) / The Truelove (USA title) (1992)
  • WDS -- The Wine Dark Sea (1993)
  • COM -- The Commodore (1994)
  • YA -- The Yellow Admiral (1996)
  • HD -- The Hundred Days (1998)
  • BM -- Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
  • GO -- The Golden Ocean (1956)
  • US -- The Unknown Shore (1959)

Errors and Omissions

There are certain to be omissions and errors in our work; these are undoubtedly due to the sloth, ignorance, fecklessness and misspent youth of your Editor. But please do let me know of any gaps in our labours. If you are genteel enough to pretend that you are pointing out a very mere slip of pen or attention, then you will be entered on the 'Roll of Honour' of those who have helped better the final document. We intend to publish revised editions from time to time, so contributions are always welcome. Don't forget: even if you have no idea what a 'foreign' phrase we've missed out means in English, please send it to us for translation and inclusion.

If you have comments, please e-mail Anthony Gary Brown direct.

Contribute to the Guide for the Perplexed

Anthony Gary Brown has kindly allowed the use of the Guide for the Perplexed on WikiPOBia and WikiPOBia wishes to show our gratitude by continuing to help him expand and improve it. Contributors who create new entries of foreign words or phrases are strongly encouraged to dual license these additions under the terms noted above and to also submit new entries directly to Anthony Gary Brown.

To dual license new entries of foreign words and phrases for use on WikiPOBia and for inclusion in future versions of the guide for the perplexed, simply insert the following wiki text at the bottom of the article:

{{gftp notice}}

Guide for the Perplexed — This article is based on information from the Guide for the Perplexed, edited by Anthony Gary Brown and based on the work of many contributors. As an aid to readers, the translations offered in Guide for the Perplexed are intended to be a literal as possible, and to follow as closely as possible the original word order.
All contributions to this article are considered to be dual licensed under the terms of the WikiPOBia License and for use in future editions of the Guide for the Perplexed under its terms of inclusion (contact Anthony Gary Brown for details).
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