[B-Greek] Rhetorical exaggeration and Lexical information (was "MISEW in Lk 14:26")

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Thu Oct 29 07:29:57 EDT 2009

On Oct 29, 2009, at 12:56 AM, Iver Larsen wrote:

> ... what a word "means" is a rather complex
> notion.
> And you are quite right that what we are dealing with in Lk 14:26  
> and many other
> places is a figure of speech, hyperbole (exaggeration). This is very  
> common in
> Hebrew culture and language together with the tendency to speak in  
> extremes for
> rhetorical effect. So, an expression like "hate x and love y" taken  
> as an idiom
> means to put higher priority on y than x or something like that.  
> Similarly "all"
> and "none" are often to be understood as intended to "mean" "many"  
> and "few".
> If some dictionaries include "love less" as a "sense" for the word,  
> it must be
> because they are trying to assist the user in how this might be  
> translated when
> used in a literal rendering from Hebrew. They are putting into the  
> lexical item
> what does not properly belong there, but is part of the linguistic  
> and cultural
> context.
> How one translates MISEW in Lk 14:26 depends on what one demands of  
> the reader.
> If the reader knows Hebrew culture and understands that it is meant  
> as a
> hyperbole, a literal rendering is adequate, but if the reader does  
> not have such
> a background, a literal rendering is likely to be misunderstood.

Rhetorical exaggeration is, of course, exactly what we have here, but  
I hardly think that rhetorical exaggeration is something unique to  
Hebrew culture. It's common enough in English, certainly, and probably  
common in most languages.

Apart from that I think that Iver has fingered a genuine and common  
problem in lexicography, one that reflects the worst of our  
pedagogical practices: the accursed quest for "le mot juste" -- a  
gloss that will fit perfectly into the "translation" that the student/ 
reader conceives as the goal of his endeavors in reading or working  
through a Greek text. One must produce an "accurate version" of the  
Greek in one's target language. While I think the lexicographer  
certainly ought to indicate common exaggerated usage and even to note  
egregious instances of it within the literary corpus represented, such  
differentiations should be clearly indicated in the lexical enry. But  
beyond that, students really ought to be advised and urged to study  
the lexical entries rather than to scan them for a gloss that "works"  
in the passage that took them to the lexicon in the first place.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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