I have spent six years studying literature at university, and sometimes I think all I learned is how to translate. That is, how to read overlong, archaic, olde-worlde language and translate it into words that can filter properly into my little pea-brain.
An example, from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela:
Now in this green-room is a closet, with a sash-door and a curtain before it; for there she puts her sweet-meats and such things; and into this closet my master had got unknown to me; I suppose while I went to call Mrs Jervis: and she has since owned, it was at his desire, when she told him something of what I intended, or else she would not have done it: though I have reason, I’m sure, to remember the last closet-work.
Translation: he was in the cupboard.
And another from Pamela:
I went with great terror; for I expected he would be in a fine passion with me for my freedom of speech in the green-room: so I was resolved to begin first, with submission, to disarm his anger; and I fell upon my knees as soon as I saw him; and said, ‘Good sir, let me beseech you, as you hope to be forgiven yourself, and for the sake of my dear good lady your mother, who recommended me to you in her last words, to forgive me all my faults: and only grant me this favour, the last I shall ask of you, that you will let me depart your house with peace and quietness of mind, that I may take such a leave of my fellow-servants as befits me, and that my heart be not quite broken.
Translation: don’t feel my arse before I leave.
And another, from Dryden’s Almanzor and Almahide, or the Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards, a Tragedy:
Fancy, the kinder mistress of the two,
Fancy had done what Phyllis would not do!
Ah, cruel nymph, cease your disdain,
While, I can dream you scorn in vain,
Asleep or waking you must ease my pain.
Translation: She knocked me back, but I have the last laugh because I can still wank over her! HA HA, I WIN.
I’m not sure whether this skill is really useful, but it certainly amused me when I was spending my evenings writing in the margins of my reading list books.