Thursday, May 18, 2006


Sins of the Tongue, I: Foolish Talking

Ephesians 5.3-4:
[3] But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; [4] Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking [μωρολογία, mōrología], nor jesting [εὐτραπελία, eutrapelía], which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

[3] πορνεία δὲ καὶ ἀκαθαρσία πᾶσα ἢ πλεονεξία μηδὲ ὀνομαζέσθω ἐν ὑμῖν, καθὼς πρέπει ἁγίοις, [4] καὶ αἰσχρότης καὶ ἢ εὐτραπελία, ἃ οὐκ ἀνῆκεν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον εὐχαριστία.
Colossians 3.8:
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication [αἰσχρολογία, aischrología] out of your mouth.

νυνὶ δὲ ἀπόθεσθε καὶ ὑμεῖς τὰ πάντα, ὀργήν, θυμόν, κακίαν, βλασφημίαν, αἰσχρολογίαν ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ὑμῶν.

Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (London, 1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), § xxxiv. μωρολογία, αἰσχρολογία, εὐτραπελία:
All these designate sins of the tongue, but with a difference.

Μωρολογία, employed by Aristotle (Hist. Anim. i.11), but of rare use till the later Greek, is rendered well in the Vulgate, on the one occasion of its occurrence (Ephes. v.4), by 'stultiloquium,' a word which Plautus may have coined (Mil. Glor. ii.3.5); although one which did not find more favour and currency in the after language of Rome, than did the 'stultiloquy' which Jeremy Taylor sought to introduce among ourselves.

Not merely the πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν [every idle word] of our Lord (Matt. xii.36), but in good part also the πᾶς λόγος σαπρός [every corrupt communication] of his Apostle (Ephes. iv.29), will be included in it; discourse, as everything else in the Christian, needing to be seasoned with the salt of grace, and being in danger of growing first insipid, and then corrupt, without it.

Those who stop short with the ἀργὰ ῥήματα [idle words], as though μωρολογία reached no further, fail to exhaust the fulness of its meaning. Thus Calvin too weakly: 'Sermones inepti ac inanes, nulliusque frugis;' and even Jeremy Taylor (On the Good and Evil Tongue, Serm. xxxii. pt. 2) fails to reproduce the full force of the word. 'That,' he says, 'which is here meant by stultiloquy or foolish speaking is the "lubricum verbi," as St. Ambrose calls it, the "slipping with the tongue" which prating people often suffer, whose discourses betray the vanity of their spirit, and discover "the hidden man of the heart."'

In heathen writings μωρολογία may very well pass as equivalent to ἀδολεσχία, 'random talk,' and μωρολογεῖν to ληρεῖν (Plutarch, De Garr. 4); but words obtain a new earnestness when assumed into the ethical terminology of Christ's school. Nor, in seeking to enter fully into the meaning of this one, ought we to leave out of sight the greater emphasis which the words 'fool,' 'foolish,' 'folly,' obtain in Scripture, than elsewhere they have, or can have. There is the positive of folly as well as the negative to be taken account of, when we are weighing the force of μωρολογία: it is that 'talk of fools,' which is foolishness and sin together.

I broke Trench's prose into shorter paragraphs and inserted extra matter in square brackets.

The Greek noun μωρολογία [mōrología] is a compound formed from μωρός (mōrós = foolish) and λόγος (lógos = word). We see mōrós in English sophomore = wise fool and moron. Lógos is an element of many English words (theology, trilogy, etc.). The title of Erasmus' Praise of Folly (Encomium Moriae) was a pun on the Greek word μωρία (mōría = folly) and the surname of Erasmus' friend Thomas More.

With the Plautine stultiloquium in the Vulgate of Ephesians 5.4, compare turpis lucri cupidum at Titus 1.7, where I once half seriously suggested emending the text to turpilucricupidum, after the Plautine compound turpilucricupidus (Trinummus 100). St. Jerome was an avid reader of Plautus.

The next installment will be Sins of the Tongue, II: Filthy Communication, on the Greek word αἰσχρολογία, aischrología.

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