God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Funny Thing About What Words Mean

The funny thing about what words mean is how hard it is to notice when they mean more than one thing, as, for example, “funny.” The way I’m using it here the word doesn’t mean “humorous” but, rather, “odd.”

Two thousand years hence, will scholars be arguing over whether “funny” should be translated into the then-equivalent of “humorous” or the then-equivalent of “odd”? Will they even know enough to ask the question?


September 14, 2009 - Posted by | general linguistics, translation theory | , ,


  1. I have always been frustrated by the whole “translate the same word the same way everywhere” impulse. Seems like sometimes the Bible gets treated as a document that defies the normal rules of language.

    Comment by Ryan | September 14, 2009

    • Sometimes making sure the same Greek work stays the same English word is the only way to preserve word plays and other poetic devices. This is part of the challenge of translation. Sometimes accuracy calls for using the same word in translation, sometimes different words in different contexts.

      The hardest case is when the translation calls for both.

      Comment by Joel | September 16, 2009

  2. They will look to popular 20th century scholars like Dr. Seuss.

    Comment by Scripture Zealot | September 14, 2009

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