Beating a dead metaphor
Here's an email I received from one of the readers of my Lingamish blog [Some details removed]:
Dear Friend in Christ, Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! I have been going through the studies at your web site, and I am deeply inspired with all of the teachings and studies thereon like Bible studies, sermons, children's sermons and other teaching materials on our Web site. This is such a wonderful studies you have arranged for all the nations, in the long run of your service for the nations of the all the world. I am from [a politically/religiously repressive country] where it is difficult to have Radio and TV channel for preaching purposes. They would not allow us to do that here; the Satan has real strong hold over everything. I often say that we are living in the land of the enemy. Friend, I humbly request you to expand your outreach your program in [a language] and [another] language. [...]I would ask you to pray and share it among the brethren. I would offer my services for being translator, recorder and distribution/sales. I pray that your consideration will have His mark over your decision. May God bless you abundantly! May His perfect will be done! Grace and Peace be with you, all brethrens. Yours brother in Christ, [Name removed]
Notice anything wrong here? While you can only applaud this man's desire to translate my witty blog into the languages of his home country, I can guarantee that the result wouldn't be anything like my blog. It is entirely possible that this isn't just some devious huckster trying to flatter me and then make a buck. Maybe he did read my blog and see nothing but spiritually uplifting "Bible studies, sermons, children's sermons and other teaching materials." But the truth is he missed the point. He didn't get the joke.
And if the joke's on him, I'm afraid that the same can be said of some of us Bible bloggers who have been blogging ourselves blue in the face on 1 Corinthians 9:27. If the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath is "Do no harm" then the first rule of translation should be George Orwell's: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous." Yet most of the suggestions I'm seeing so far are barbarous. And barbarous for the simple reason that they're mixing dead metaphors.
The word in question is this one: ὑπωπιάζω. (hupopiazo) This word has a fantastic etymology: hupo-op-piazo "hit under the eye." Unfortunately we only have two occurrences of the word in the New Testament:
For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” (Luke 18:4-5, NRSV)
So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:26-27, NRSV)
The reason this word gets used in such different contexts is that the word is a dead metaphor, or "semantically bleached" (I've always wanted to use that phrase on a blog). And further proof of this is that Paul collocates it with "body" which would really be strange: "I hit myself on the face my body." Finally, this is just a small word in a big mixed metaphor that rambles through chapters 9 and 10 and includes slavery, boxing, athletic training and yoga. Well, maybe not yoga. But I hear John Hobbins found some yoga in this passage so it must be there.
This is one of those cases where we as translators just have to laugh at ourselves and say, "Gee, I don't really know how to bring in the meaning of ὑπωπιάζω into my translation, but I can at least make sure I don't say anything barbarous." And that is what English translators have been doing far into the distant past when they all walked around wearing powdered wigs. KJV and all the rest simply say "discipline" and who am I to contradict such an illustrious crowd?
For another example of Paul's use of mixed metaphors, see 1 Timothy 1:18-20.
Well, this is my first ever post on BBB and I deserve a good beating for it I'm sure. But right now I'm hungry so I'm going to head over to the all-you-can-eat buffet.