4.0446 The Word "Moron", NT Language, &c. (1/43)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 30 Aug 90 23:29:53 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0446. Thursday, 30 Aug 1990.

Date: Tue, 28 Aug 90 10:46:21 EDT
From: Steve Mason <SHLOMO@YORKVM1>
Subject: More on Moron

Doug De Lacey raises an interesting question about US-UK perceptions of
the word "moron", especially as they might bear on translations of the
cognate _mo_r-_ in Paul's writings (1 Corinthians 1-4?). Since we
Canadians are neither fish nor fowl on these matters, and are advised to
combine British spelling with American punctuation -- my positioning of
the comma outside of the quotation marks above was a rather heroic act of
existential authenticity, not the party line -- I can only make two
observations, as an outsider.

The first is that (North) American culture seems to suffer from a higher
rate of rhetorical inflation than the UK. Just as good things over here
tend to be "awesome" or "radical", indeed "totally" so, and we have
stores/shops called Miracle Mart (also some churches, I think) or Super
Duper, so also the bad things in life attract powerful adjectives. A
few years ago, I thought that we were experiencing a re-evaluation of
our lexical currency when people began to call positive experiences
dee-SEHNT (decent), but this turned out to be a temporary lull, until we
could find replacements for expired terms like super-fantastic. Anyway,
I suspect that your American translator, Doug, may not have been quite
as sensitive to the traditional connotations of "moron" as you are.

A second point to consider, however, is whether we have not become so
used to hearing the New Testament as translated by dignified scholars and
read in polite company that we miss the sharp rhetoric of some of Paul's
phrasing. Famous examples are his vivid castration language in Gal 5:12,
which is rendered as a less specific reference to "mutilation", and his
advice that men should control their "vessels", in 1 Thess 4:4 (with
clear sexual connotations). Is it possible that Paul really wanted to
speak of "morons" in 1 Cor 1-4, and that we translate otherwise to make
him more polite than he really was?

I quickly tested that hypothesis on the relevant passages, and got this
impression: the abstract noun _moria_ could probably be rendered
"moronity" in most cases (in 1 Cor 1-4) and yield a plausible sense, from
this Canadian's perspective ("to the Jews a scandal, to the Greeks
moronity"). And the noun _moros_ seems to have the sense of "moron" in
Matthew (e.g., 5:22 -- "Anyone who says (to his brother) 'you moron'
risks the fire of Gehenna"). But did Paul really mean to say of his
followers "God chose the morons of the world . . . "? On that one,
Doug, I'm with you.

Steve Mason
Humanities, York U.