"Moron" considered dangerous

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In all of the foofaraw about Rex Tillerson calling Donald Trump a "fucking moron", no one seems to have picked up on the fact the Mr. Tillerson may have endangered his immortal soul. (And not on account of the expletive.)

In "The S-word and the F-word", 6/12/2004, I noted that the gospel quotes Jesus delivering a strongly-worded threat to people who call other people stupid. Thus Matthew 5:22:

Original: Ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει: ὃς δ᾽ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ: ὃς δ᾽ ἂν εἴπῃ Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

Transliteration: Egô de legô humin hoti pas ho orgizomenos tôi adelphôi autou enochos estai têi krisei: hos d' an eipêi tôi adelphôi autou Rhaka, enochos estai tôi sunedriôi: hos d' an eipêi Môre, enochos estai eis tên geennan tou puros.

KJV: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

NASB: But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ' You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

The Greek word translated "fool" in that verse is precisely μωρός, which is the etymon of "moron", as the OED explains:

Etymology: ancient Greek μωρόν, neuter of μωρός , (Attic) μῶρος foolish, stupid (further etymology uncertain: a connection with Sanskrit mūra foolish, stupid, is now generally rejected).

I would have filed this post under "theology of language", but our wildly excessive number of categories doesn't include that possibility.

 



13 Comments »

  1. Nick Kaldis said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 3:22 pm

    The modern Greek term for "baby" is pronounced similarly, I remember from childhood. I had to google the script form, which appears to be the same as the ancient word for "stupid" –μῶρος

  2. Laura Morland said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

    Sounds as if you need to add a new category! What's the difference in nuance between Ῥακά and Μωρέ, do you know?

    P.S. Not to mention that persons with IQ deficits strongly resent the term "moron" being used by anyone, in any circumstance.

  3. Timo said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 5:04 pm

    Incidentally, some days ago I was writing on some stuff about Augustine, who quotes this in his Confessions (9.13.34): 'si quis dixerit fratri suo, "fatue", reus erit gehennae ignis'.
    However, the point he's trying to make is that it's remarkably easy to win that prize, and so he goes on to say that it might not actually make a difference whether you call someone a moron or not: et vae etiam laudabili vitae hominum, si remota misericordia discutias eam! – And woe even to man's praiseworthy life, if you shatter it by taking away your mercy!
    Not that there's any truth in that, but Tillerson must have understood it :D

  4. Adrian Morgan said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 5:07 pm

    Mark: Different sources have very different interpretations of these Biblical terms, which I suppose is because their meanings shifted over time, and different shades of meaning might have existed simultaneously. And Jesus did not speak in Greek, so these are already translations.

    But I would be interested if you could comment on William Barclay's explanation of the terms, quoted below. It's very different from yours, and to my mind rings more true, as it fits the overall New Testament ethos much better if the most condemned insult is the one that attacks a person's moral character rather than the aspersion against their intellect.

    From Barclay:

    1. "There is the man who is angry with his brother. The verb here used is /orgizesthai/. In Greek there are two words for anger. There is /thumos/, which […] is the anger which quickly blazes up and which just as quickly dies down […]. There is /orge/, which […] is the long-lived anger; it is the anger of the man who nurses his wrath to keep it warm […]."

    2. "[T]he man who calls his brother /Raca/ is condemned. /Raca/ is an almost untranslatable word, because it describes a tone of voice more than any thing else. Its whole accent is the accent of /contempt/. To call a man /Raca/ was to call him a brainless idiot, a silly fool, an empty-headed blunderer." 3.

    "Then Jesus goes on to speak of the man who calls his brother /moros/. /Moros/ also means /fool/, but the man who is /moros/ is the man who is a /moral/ fool. To call a man /moros/ was not to criticise his mental ability; it was to cast aspersions on his moral character; it was to take his name and reputation from him, and to brand him as a loose-living and immoral person."

    In summary: "Long-lasting anger is bad; contemptuous speaking is worse, and the careless or the malicious talk which destroys a man's good name is worst of all."

    * *** ***** *** *

    In light of all that, I hereby endorse the statement that Trump, and a great many politicians besides, is absolutely a fucking /moros/.

  5. VR said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

    Missing here: an explication of "γέενναν", which was a garbage dump west of Jerusalem, where people burned their trash. "Fires of hell" is at best metaphorical, at worst an invention by translators to ratchet up the negative consequences of various undesired behaviors.
    Let the traditionalist vs. universalist arguments begin….

  6. David Marjanović said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 7:02 pm

    And Jesus did not speak in Greek, so these are already translations.

    …to the extent that they aren't simply made up, or mixed in from other sources.

  7. Chris C. said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 7:03 pm

    @Laura Morland — For one thing, "raca" isn't Greek but a transliterated Aramaic word. John Chrysostom — who, as he hailed from Syria, ought to have known what he was talking about here — explained it as a form of address one uses toward an inferior, implying contempt.

    But this word, “Raca,” is not an expression of a great insolence, but rather of some contempt and slight on the part of the speaker. For as we, giving orders either to our servants, or to any very inferior person, say, “Away with thee; you here, tell such an one:” so they who make use of the Syrians’ language say, “Raca,” putting that word instead of “thou.”

  8. D.O. said,

    October 10, 2017 @ 9:17 pm

    Well, but is Trump Tillerson's brother?

  9. ajay said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 4:37 am

    But this word, “Raca,” is not an expression of a great insolence, but rather of some contempt and slight on the part of the speaker. For as we, giving orders either to our servants, or to any very inferior person, say, “Away with thee; you here, tell such an one:” so they who make use of the Syrians’ language say, “Raca,” putting that word instead of “thou.”

    So what, if anything, would be the best English equivalent? A mode of address that implies "I regard you with contempt, as an inferior"?

    "Boy"?

  10. Daniel Barkalow said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

    Obviously, Jesus had been watching a lot of anime at the time, since he's clearly talking about people calling each other "バカ" in the middle there.

  11. Jake said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 1:44 pm

    @VR: that seems like a perfect opportunity for a translator to use 'dumpster fire'.

  12. dw said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 1:56 pm

    Tillerson is OK because he didn't address Trump directly (implied by the use of the Greek form Μωρέ in the vocative case). According to the news reports:

    Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

    This implies that Tillerson referred to Trump as a "moron" to "members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials", rather than to Trump himself.

  13. Charles Antaki said,

    October 12, 2017 @ 7:01 am

    As we all know, I guess, 'moron' started out (in 1910) as a technical term for a certain range of IQ score – it's hard to know when it migrated into popular language to become usable as a term of abuse, but Google Ngrams show the sudden appearance of 'fucking moron' in the mid-60s and a steep and steady climb thereafter. 'Fucking cretin' starts at the same time, and "fucking credit' a bit later, but both bump along the bottom from then on.

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