Category Archives: wordplay

he didn’t keep her a virgin

he kept her
a virgin

and that’s
the gospel
aCCording to
the men
who translated
the NASB

one e. e.
a poet a
n’t keep an

here are two
that (with my apologies

for the formatting problems)


she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and(having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell)next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good


was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on

brakes Bothatonce and

brought allofher tremB
to a:dead.



a pretty a day
(and every fades)
is here and away
(but born are maids
to flower an hour
in all,all)

o yes to flower
until so blithe
a doer a wooer
some limber and lithe
some very fine mower
a tall;tall

some jerry so very
(and nellie and fan)
some handsomest harry
(and sally and nan
they tremble and cower
so pale:pale)

for betty was born
to never say nay
but lucy could learn
and lily could pray
and fewer were shyer
than doll. doll

Man Grammar: A Poem

The following poem is inspired by a blog conversation with Abram K-J, blogger, who makes a grammatical observation. He says,

I know it’s becoming more accepted to speak of “women authors,” “women this,” and “women that,” but what we really want to say is “female scholars.” Just like we wouldn’t say “man scholar” but would say “male scholar.”

Since William Safire is dead, I thought I would let his words speak nonetheless. And they are (from an article he wrote for the New York Times, “Language: Woman vs. female“), now, this Man Grammar poem:

Neck and Neck, and Ear, and Nose:
A Man-Grammar Poem Consisting of A William Safire Head and His Grammatical Words Verbatim / (And Most of A John Dryden Foot-Note)

There’s nothing new
about this: The use


as a modifier

dates to 1300,
with the poet John Dryden,
translating Juvenal in 1697, noticing “a


grammarian who corrects her
husband for speaking
false Latin.”* Today, usage is

neck and neck,


as a modifier appearing

my ear

as pulling ahead


a nose.

(*The rest of the
John Dryden foot-

is not noted

the William Safire man-grammar note
The New
York Times,

which could be instructive
or obstructive
as it is not destructive
or at least not deconstructive,

this Juvenal not false Latin
man woman-poem; man readers
must not imagine the rest of
this note

écriture féminine,

for it reads

follows, “which is called
breaking Priscian’s


5 private prayers

1. Wow, I believe in you and give you thanks for that. What separates natural and supernatural except human beings of disbelief? I just read Faulkner’s and Kumin’s Bear. Wow.

2. So this morning, I sit, my fingers on this keyboard making meaning of it all in a way that another human being’s eyes might make sense of. It’s not just communication in the senses of relevance theory, of one message leaving me and entering another some comprehended as if that message is the salient thing. No, rather, I’m leaving this message here for the eyes of God, who knows me and made these fingers of mine that type out this message of mine. I give you thanks for that.

3. So the scriptures. Which ones, and how much meaning is left here in them as if for me, as if some message to me that I must get and understand and then believe lest I go to hell for lack of that? I thank you for that, and give that to you.

4. It’s true, absolutely so, that coffee from beans in cherries on trees in the ground in various countries of this third rock from the sun have been ground and brewed and that it pours under my grateful nostrils across an equally appreciative tongue where it travels to warm my inner most parts and to speed my blood in an awakening that I might take for granted like I do daily with the holy spirit. The whole creation groaneth. But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. I type on. I thank you for that.

5. I do not know whether my right hand knoweth what my left hand doeth. The Lord’s Prayer is not one of giving thanks but is one of what Aristotle’s twenty-first-century disciples might call epideictic rhetoric, though in private ostensibly, a contrast to giving alms so that one’s own hands literally know what each other is giving and a contrast to loving praying in public like the hypocrites and like the heathen whose doing tzedakah is merely the βατταλογήσητε ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί, which is funny written in Greek since Matthew’s original readers were not to be readers of such battalogesete hosper hoi ethnikoi according to the preaching of this one Joshua [ יהושוע, Ἰησοῦς ] of the first-century. The miracle, the naturalsupernatural thing, to me anyway, this late in the morning of human history, is how five and five fingers cooperate as two hands in unity, on a keyboard not made for dark mornings, a maybemonsterous thing like a threeinone god who leaves much to mystery in secret privately and just-the-two-of-us. In private we may muse that the prayer starts with one voice plural to Our Father who art in heaven. Upon profound reflection we get the irony of the Lord’s Prayer being a public one. Why not then blog it? Why not write a gospel, by hand, and have him ask a three-in-one Greek-rhetorical question?

Οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον οὐδὲ δοῦλος ὑπὲρ τὸν κύριον αὐτοῦ. ἀρκετὸν τῷ μαθητῇ ἵνα γένηται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὁ δοῦλος ὡς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ. εἰ τὸν οἰκοδεσπότην Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐπεκάλεσαν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον τοὺς οἰκιακοὺς αὐτοῦ.

Why not type that the ways David Stern and Willis Barnstone do, without question marks and with exclamation points, the both of them!

A talmid is not greater than his rabbi, a slave is not greater than his master. It is enough for a talmid that he become like his rabbi, and a slave like his master. Now if people have called the head of the house Ba‘al-Zibbul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

A student is not above the teacher,
nor a slave above the master.
It is enough for the student to be like the teacher
and the slave like the master.
If they call the master of the house Baal Zevul,
lord of the flies,
how much worse will they call the members of
the household!

Which begs the question of whose household am I in, whose lord of whose flies? Whose dog and who’s master and which bear, ask the human William Faulkner and the human Maxine Kumin. After all these years, my first grade teacher who taught me but for one brief semester, my first firstgrade teacher, is a poet and found me on facebook and said one of my posts there reminded her of what Faulkner and what Kumin wrote. How do miracles like that happen? What separates the literal and the poetic literary except human beings of disbelief? Wow, I believe in you and give you thanks for that.

What God Said: Yada Yada

Isn’t it much more interesting what God said than what any human said? Really, doesn’t God’s spoken language always come to us in translation? At least if we’re reading the Bible it does, doesn’t it? You can’t watch God on youtube or listen to God on your ipod, can you? And whatever God says is translated into what we humans say, or am I just saying “blah blah”?

So (at BBB) I find Dannii Willis’s problem with what Abram said in three Christian versions of the Bible so much less interesting than what God said. (What Abram said in the ESV Bible is “how am I to know …?” What he said in the NLT Bible and in the GOD’S WORD® Bible is “how can I be sure/certain?” Dannii questions as “very odd” the natural English of the ESV and wonders whether the NLT Bible and the GOD’S WORD® Bible take “the right approach” and asks if “all these translations miss the point completely.” The point of Dannii’s problem is to get at “whether this verse [is] about Abram’s cognitive dissonance.” Saving faith and doubtful knowledge make the communication of the point of the Bible rather problematic, with no help from translations that fail to mind this relevance, so Dannii says.)

What God said, in the ESV Christian Bible, is “Know for certain …”; what he said in the NLT and the GOD’S WORD® Christian Bibles, Dannii doesn’t tell us. (It’s, respectively: “Know for certain … ” and “You can know for sure … ”.)

We’re thinking God spoke to Abram in Hebrew. Moses has written (in what we call Genesis 14:13) that Abram was Hebrew, and Moses has written that in Hebrew. So is Moses translating or isn’t he? At least he’s transposing, isn’t he? It’s speech to text, right? What’s that sound like?

I like how Everett Fox makes it sound:

“You must know, yes, know … ”

Notice how Fox is having God say the same thing twice:

“know, yes, know … ”

Earlier translators, who were Hebrews, used their Hellene to have God say something similar:

“γινώσκων γνώσῃ … ” [ginoskon gnose]

The same thing twice.

So the Hebraic Hellene and the Hebraic English sounds like the Heavenly Hebrew, which sounds presumably like something God said, said twice. The Heavenly Hebrew written by Moses as translation sounds like this:

יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע

If you speak Hebraic Yiddish, then that might sound to you like this:

Yada Yada

The point of that for some linguists is that there’s something for communication but of an “origin unclear,” which means, “perhaps onomatopoeic of blather.” One linguist conjectures a “Putative Yiddish etymology” for the reduplicated phrase, without ever thinking it’s a translation of Hebrew Godspeak. Is God saying “blah blah” in French or Swedish or English to the Hebrew named Abram? Whatever. We humans just now “know” it’s our language:

or not:

What Prose Says Also: Facing Text

When I first started blogging here, my blogger friend called Theophrastus mentioned a focus in Bible translation that is, what he calls, the “classic missionary focus of “move into the culture, figure out the key points, and blast out a translation, move on to the next project.” With such a focus, it seems, another of my blogger friends, Wayne Leman, is reading and desiring to translate Psalm 80 . At least he’s getting us to figure out the key points of the text and is working on getting the meaning of the text into what’s “normally considered contemporary English, which is read and spoken by a majority of native English speakers today.” Wayne’s post at Better Bibles Blog is here. Theophrastus comments on Wayne’s post to protest, saying: “My goodness, this is Hebrew poetry — can we at least preserve some poetic forms such as parallelism?” He presses by showing that it can “take some work to read” such poetry.

In a later post, we may try to get more at what the classic missionary focus is, especially as opposed to what Theophastus elsewhere has called “the classic Jewish view.” Here in this post mostly I just want to illustrate that view, perhaps.

In this blogpost, I’d like to protest further than Theophrastus does. I’d like to suggest that the text of the Hebrew Bible is more than poetry, that it’s mostly if not always full of wordplay whether it’s poetry or prose. I’d like to show that, perhaps by the classic Jewish view, how the Hebrew Bible of the Jews is playful and creative. I’d like to show what Everett Fox does with some of the words, in Hebrew and in translation.

Here’s Fox addressing many words and motifs that are also in the poetry of Psalm 80. Fox is only discussing these words and motifs in a bit of Torah, in prose, in narrative. Here’s from his “Translator’s Preface” for The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Notice how different Fox translates by listening to how the Hebrew text sounds (by what it “says”); he shows how different this is from the way the New English Bible translators have translated (by what it “means”). Notice how different Fox’s view from Wayne’s focus:


The text in [Genesis ch.32] vv.21-22 presents Jacob’s thoughts and actions (the translation is taken from the New English Bible):

for he thought, “I will appease him with the present that I have sent on ahead, and afterwards, when I come into his presence, he will perhaps receive me kindly.” So Jacob’s present went on ahead of him. . . .

This is an accurate and highly idiomatic translation of the Hebrew, and the reader will notice nothing unusual about the passage as it reads in English. The sound of the Hebrew text, on the other hand, gives one pause. It is built on variations of the word panim, whose basic meaning is “face,” although Hebrew uses it idiomatically to encompass various ideas. (Note: in Hebrew, the sound p is pronounced as ph under certain circumstances.) If the text is translated with attention to sound, its quite striking oral character emerges (italics mine [italics are Fox’s]):

For he said to himself:
I will wipe (the anger from) his face (phanav)
with the gift that goes ahead of my face; (le-phanai)
afterward, when I see his face, (phanav)
perhaps he will lift up my face! (phanai)
The gift crossed over ahead of his face. . . . (al panav)

Comparison of these two English versions is instructive. In the New English Bible, as in most other contemporary versions, the translators are apparently concerned with presenting the text in clear, modern, idiomatic English. For example, they render the Hebrew yissa phanai as “receive me kindly.” The N.E.B. translates the idea of the text; at the same time it translates out the sound by not picking up on the repetition of panim words.
What does the reader gain by hearing the literalness of the Hebrew? And what is lost by the use of its idiomatic meaning? As mirrored in the second translation, it is clear that our text is signaling something of significance. The motif of “face” (which might be interpreted as “facing” or “confrontation”) occurs at crucial points in the story. The night before his meeting with Esau, as he is left to ponder the next day’s events, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious stranger–a divine being. After Jacob’s victory, the text reporst (32:31):

Yaakov called the name of the place: Peniel / Face of God,
for: I have seen God,
face to face,
and my life has been saved.

The repetition suggests a thematic link with what has gone before. One could interpret that once the hero has met and actually bested this divine being, his coming human confrontation is assured of success. Thus upon meeting Esau at last, Jacob says to him (33:10):

For I have, after all, seen your face, as one sees the face of God,
and you have been gracious to me.

It could be said that in a psychological sense the meeting with divine and human adversaries are a unity, the representation of one human process in two narrative episodes. This is accomplished by the repetition of the word panim in the text.

The above interpretation depends entirely on sound. Once that focus is dropped, either through the silent reading of the text or a standard translation, the inner connections are simply lost and the reader is robbed of the opportunity to make these connections for himself. Clearly there is a difference between translating what the text means and translating what it says.