The Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion” or “kindness”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.

While the English mercy originates from the Latin merces, originally “price paid,” Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Catalan) and other Germanic languages (German, Swedish, DanishBarmherzigkeit, barmhärtighet and barmhjertighed, respectively) tend to follow the Latin misericordia, lit. “misery-heart.”

Here are some other (back-) translations:

See also steadfast love.


The Greek that is translated in English as “leaven” or “yeast” is translated in Alekano as “bile.”

Ellis Deibler (in Holzhausen 1991, p. 46f. explains): “A translation helper from the Gahuku people [one of the tribes that speak Alekano] and I had just finished translating chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians. In it, Paul gives instructions to the Corinthians on how to behave toward an immoral man in the church. In verse 6 it says ‘Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?’ Patiently, I explained to my trusted translation helper all about leaven and its function in baking bread. He shook his head in resignation and said, ‘We can try to translate it that way if you want, but people won’t understand. They don’t know how to bake bread, just as they don’t know what leaven is or what it does. How then will they understand what Paul is saying here? But …’ he added, following a sudden inspiration, ‘there would be another way. When we slaughter an animal, there’s a small part on its body that we never cut up, because otherwise when we cook it, all the rest of the meat becomes inedible.’ I could tell that he was thinking of bile. It was also clear to me that he had found a fitting example from the culture of his people. ‘We can translate it this way,’ he continued, ‘the gall bladder is a small thing, but if just a little of it is cooked together with the meat, the whole dish becomes so bitter that it cannot be eaten. Don’t you know that?’ He was quite confident in his version of translating this verse, but I had reservations. ‘What about the next verse, then, where Paul says to clean sweep out the old leaven?’, I asked. ‘Oh, that’s not difficult,’ he replied. Then he explained to me that it is customary among the Gahuku to use the word leaven figuratively to refer to an evil quality in a person, and added, ‘We can simply say, ‘Expel this disgusting stuff from your midst, and you will be truly palatable.” I thought about his suggestion for a while and discussed it at length with other colleagues. After that, I too was convinced that we had found an excellent substitute for the biblical figure of speech ‘leaven,’ and one that the Gahukus could not misunderstand. After all, they know a lot about cooking meat, but nothing at all about baking bread.”

See also leaven.

the perfect law - the law of liberty

The Greek that is translated as “the perfect law, the law of liberty” or similar in English is translated in Central Mazahua as “God has set us free so that we are able to obey his word,” in Rincón Zapotec as “the law of God which is perfect and is able to cause us to be saved,” in Mezquital Otomi as “God’s new word frees us in order that our life will be good,” and in Eastern Highland Otomi as “the new word which is like a law strengthens our hearts so that with pleasure we will obey it.”

(Source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.)

chaste behavior, pure, pure conduct

The Greek in 1 Peter 3:2 that is translated in English as “pure conduct” (or “chaste behavior”) is translated in Balanta-Kentohe as “good walk.” (Source: Rob Koops)

The standalone term that is translated as “pure” is translated in Mezquital Otomi as “that which cleanses one’s thoughts,” and in Alekano as “making our insides white.” (Source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).

See also snow (color).


The Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).

In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)

In Umiray Dumaget Agta it is translated as hayup or “creature, animal, general term for any non-human creature, whether natural or supernatural.” Thomas Headland (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 17ff.) explains some more: “There are several types of supernatural creatures, or spirit beings which are designated by the generic term hayup. Just as we have several terms in English for various spirit beings (elves, fairies, goblins, demons, imps, pixies) so have the Dumagats. And just as you will find vast disagreement and vagueness among English informants as to the differences between pixies and imps, etc., so you will find that no two Dumagats will agree as to the form and function of their different spirit beings.” This term can also be used in a verb form: hayupen: “creatured” or “to be killed, made sick, or crazy by a spirit.

In Yala it is translated as yapri̍ija ɔdwɔ̄bi̍ or “bad Yaprija.” Yaprijas are traditional spirits that have a range presumed activities including giving or withholding gifts, giving and protecting children, causing death and disease and rewarding good behavior. (Source: Eugene Bunkowske in Notes on Translation 78/1980, p. 36ff.)

In Lamnso’ it is translated as aànyùyi jívirì: “lesser gods who disturb, bother, pester, or confuse a person.” (Source: Fanwong 2013, p. 93)

See also devil and formal pronoun: demons or Satan addressing Jesus.


The Greek that is translated as “(small) rudder” in English is translated in Yatzachi Zapotec as “(a small) stick,” in Mezquital Otomi as “a (little) metal,” in Rincón Zapotec as “(little) wooden hand” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.), in Eastern Highland Otomi as “thing that is in the water that steers the boat,” in Teutila Cuicatec as “paddle that steered the ship” (source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.), and in Tetelcingo Nahuatl as “board to steer” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).

See also ship and anchor.