Thursday, September 22, 2005

Translators and Legislators on Swearing

Tyler Williams discusses the shortcomings of modern translators with I Sam. 25:22, where in most cases "one male" is substituted for "any who piss against the wall":

"May God do so to the enemies of David, if by morning I leave as much as one male of all who belong to him." (most translations)

(instead of)

"May God do so to the enemies of David, if by morning I leave of all who belong to him any who piss against the wall." (KJV)

Tyler rightly suggests that "this is a case of modern translations -- both formal and dynamic -- wimping out. You can't have 'urinate' in the Bible, much less 'piss'! It's the same concern for a false sense of propriety that softens the translation of שׁגלׁ in the Hebrew Bible or σκύβαλα in the New Testament, among others."

But there's not much way around propriety in a text like II Kings 18:27, where those doomed people sitting on the wall "eat their own dung and drink their own piss", a text mentioned in Tuesday's New York Times article, "Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore". Reporter Natalie Angier notes the prudishness of state legislators (much as Tyler does of bible translators), who are getting ready to consider a bill that will increase the penalty for obscenity on the air if passed. What silliness. Swearing is good for the soul, and someone with a lot of sense once said, "swear if you care". Translators and legislators seem to care about the wrong things these days.


Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

There's another passage where at least the NIV wimps out, 1 Kings 12:10: "My little finger is thicker than my father's waist." Yeah, right. The NRSV is a little braver: "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins."

Blogger James Crossley said...

I always kept meaning to check the possibility of an alternative translation to the first couple of verses of Song of Songs as it moves up from feet to head. when it gets to the middle section could it be...

Blogger James Crossley said...

Song of Songs chpter 7 that is

Blogger G. Brooke said...

If I recall correctly, even "finger" is, in 1 Kgs 12:10, a translator's inference. "My little-thing is thicker than..." There's no reason to think that "finger" is intended in this text.


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