Monday, November 23, 2009

Parvum Opus 348: Impedia

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere.



The Conservapedia is an online reference site built as an answer to Wikipedia, which may or may not host leftist interpretations of facts, but which definitely is a questionable source of information since there is no “authoritative” vetting of articles, only editing by, uh, other people. The Conservapedia is the same, but it openly names its political (and religious) slant up front. As such, it’s a good reminder to us to scrutinize language to understand the assumptions on which statements of fact about history, personalities, and theories are based. There is little that’s “neutral”.

The Conservapedia Bible Project plans to retranslate the Bible to replace unclear or misleading words with new words that also conform to a conservative perspective. This is a reaction to other translations that do things like make all the God pronouns gender neutral, or even female (e.g. Mother, Daughter, Holy Womb). The rationale is:

familiar terms change their meanings, so text using them becomes misinterpretable;

new, more precise terms appear at a rate of about 1000 per year.

However, if we keep replacing the old words with new or different ones, the original English words will be lost, their meaning transformed. Furthermore, “more precise” may be a matter of interpretation rather than translation.

Though the translator apparently is translating from the original Greek (and I don’t know Greek), I can tell that he oversimplifies or even alters ideas. For example:

The Greek phrase πνευμα αγιος (Pneuma hagios) literally means "Holy Breath." However, πνευμα also means a class of being not having a body, and usually having a certain amount of power. "Divine Guide" is descriptive of the function of this Entity.

“Holy breath” (Holy Spirit) is simple English. “Divine Guide” is an interpretation. Fred found a quite lengthy definition of pneuma hagios in one of his Greek dictionaries.

I don’t know if “son of David” is a more or less accurate translation than “descendant of David” but “descendant” is a more accurate statement of the ancestry of Jesus. On the other hand, “Abraham begat Isaac” is a stronger active statement than “Abraham was the father of Isaac”, and although “begat” is now archaic, it’s understandable to those who read the Bible. The Conservabible says, “The passive ‘was the father’ emphasizes the ancestry.” But it doesn’t particularly, and in fact it is not a passive construction. “Isaac was fathered by Abraham” would be passive.

"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." John 1:16 (NIV) "Grace" has become a female name and a sports term to refer primarily to smoothness in style. [Suggested replacements are] spiritual and majestic gift-giving; replace some instances of "grace" with "boundless generosity".

People use words and names like “grace” for a reason. To knock out the historical underpinnings is to weaken meaning. Likewise, the translator suggests replacing “liberal” with “generous” because of its current ubiquitous political meaning, but again, it’s a mistake to lose the history of the word liberal, which is related also to liberty, liberality, and libertine. (Compare and contrast.)

The comment on Matthew 1:9 is: “The inclusion of King Ahaz is truly remarkable, considering Ahaz' less-than-honorable history.” What does this have to do with translation? The Bible is full of ordinary human beings, from the noble to the reprehensible, but nearly all imperfect.

Other translation suggestions are simply idiotic:

homeschool: 1980s, relevant to Jesus teaching the younger Apostles

He may have taught them anyplace, and in any case this wasn’t an alternative to the public education system, which presumably didn’t exist at that time. “Teach” is sufficient.

media: 1841, relevant to prohibition against false idols

The Conservapedia’s definition of “media” is “businesses that report on scarce occurrences of interest to the public.” Occurrences of crime and political events are hardly scarce, and media don’t often qualify as false idols even though they report on false idols.

work ethic: 1951, relevant to the parable of the talents

Suggests “Protestant work ethic” (or Puritan work ethic). The phrase was coined by Max Weber, but early Protestant settlers in New England had a particular interpretation of “work and pray” which led to the famous PWE. (I sell PWE T-shirts, by the way; see below at CafePress.) In any case, “talent” was a type of money, though, not a gift or ability. If anything should be reworded, that’s the word.

Previous translations of the Bible do have inaccuracies, and every so often it’s useful to have a modern translation. While I sympathize with the conservative or preservative intent, these translators don’t seem to have a purely scholarly approach, and furthermore are not preserving either precise translations or the English language. I’d much rather see the old King James with a lot of footnotes. The commentaries on the Conservapedia entries are interesting and in some cases better written than the ’pedia page.

Andrew Schlafly founded Conservapedia in 2007 but it’s not clear who is the author of these translations and suggested language.

Sleeping Collaboration

A TV public service ad for safety tips with babies said: “Never co-sleep with your baby.” Why “co-sleep”? Did the writers think, perhaps, that “sleep with” has finally come to always mean “have sex with” in popular usage?

As for the advice, I don’t know what the statistics are on babies being crushed by co-sleeping parents, but my grandmother, who had eleven children, said if she hadn’t taken her babies into bed with her she never would have gotten any sleep.

Potemkin Color Guard

Bill Williams referred me to a news item about a color guard in the US Naval Academy, to point out the tongue-in-cheek mission statement masthead of Commander Salamander’s blog:

Proactively “From the Sea”; leveraging the littoral best practices for a paradigm breaking six-sigma best business case in the global commons, rightsizing the core values supporting our mission statement via the 5-vector model through cultural diversity.

Anyway, the news story is that someone fiddled with the Naval Academy color guard to represent the “diversity” of the Naval Academy. This representation is not, of course, statistical, and a careful reader of the above-linked news story asked:

Really? Where is the "geographical diversity" color guard? Where is the "religious diversity" color guard? Where is the "I like redheads, he likes natural blondes" color guard?

Oh, and the word, "needed." Who defined that need, and … who was the senior commissioned officer present who agreed to discriminate against two defined individuals on the basis of race?

A City Reader

Tom Simon pointed out a new blog about books by Bill Gunlocke, A City Reader. About books, by a teacher/editor/bookstore owner who likes books. Friend of yours, Tom?


I ran across “Click to embiggen” somewhere. It seems to be a new slang term of obvious denotation. Cute.

It is patterned after words like embolden and embrace, though those two are slightly different from each other. Embrace would be literally in arms. Embolden uses the prefix more as an intensifier for bolden, which actually is a verb, though not used now.

Math and Logic

Mike Sykes wrote about PO 347:

Many people seem to think that mathematics is all about arithmetic. But arithmetic is a largely mechanical skill, and it's undoubtedly valuable to be able to do it quickly and accurately in your head. But I was never much of an arithmetician, for all that I have a maths degree. Even at the elementary level, algebra and geometry are more educationally important than arithmetic, because they teach you to think logically, which is much more important than learning one's tables by rote.

I’m in favor of rote. But even the teachers who think their students won’t “need” to use algebra would agree that they will need to use logic at some point in their lives, and algebra and geometry are all about logic.

(Note that the British use “maths” where we would say “math”.)

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Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at; 2009 issues are at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2009. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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