On lace and Greek

Edward Hobbs (EHOBBS@wellesley.edu)
Thu, 29 Aug 1996 21:27:20 -0500 (EST)

From: LUCY::EHOBBS "Edward Hobbs" 29-AUG-1996 21:25:20.00
To: IN%"rdecker@bbc.edu"
Subj: RE: A bit of lace...

We seem to have gotten into a "quotation season." For the second
time, I am obligated to report that the source of the quote in fact lifted
it from a predecessor. In both cases, the original source of the citation
was a classical Greek scholar of great competence and recognition.
Here is the exchange I am repsonding to:

>From: "Carlton L. Winbery" <winberyc@popalex1.linknet.net>
>In the back of my mind I remember on old Greek Grammar that started the
>introduction with the statement, "Greek is like lace. Every man wants a
>little." I think that was back when men of learning often wore lace around
>their sleaves. Well men no longer wear lace do they?

You remember fairly well:

" 'Greek, Sir, is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.' This
remark seems originally to have been regarded as among the more penetrating
of Samuel Johnson's _obiter dicta_, though at present it is hard to believe
that it ever made much sense. Nowadays Greek is like lace in that few men
care whether they 'get' any or not."

Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, _The Language of the New Testament_ (NY: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1965), xi.

Rodney J. Decker, Asst. Prof./NT Baptist Bible Seminary


Rod is quite correct that Gene (an old friend, whose textbook Rod cites was
used by me for years, the first several of those years in dittoed form before
it was properly published!) cites it just that way. But in fact, I doubt
that he read it first in Boswell. It was the opening paragraph in Charles
Burton Gulick's great revision of W. W. Goodwin's "Greek Grammar" (1930),
where Gulick referred to it as one of Johnson's _obiter dicta_. If we
found this sort of lifting (i.e, slight paraphrasing of Gulick's
surrounding text without credit) here, the author would be brought before
General Judiciary and charged with plagiarism, perhaps to be expelled from
the college. It is minor plagiarism, to be sure, even trifling; and I love
Gene Goetchius too much to have him expelled from anything. But he really
should have acknowledged his _real_ source, betrayed by his manner of

Gulick's revision of Goodwin was my college textbook in Greek, since
Gordon Messing's revision of Smyth's _Greek Grammar_ did not come out until
1956, more than a decade too late for my studies. Smyth-Messing is of
course now the standard work. (I suspect Carl Conrad may have had Messing
as a professor; I know he studied with the legendary Professor Whatmough.)
My days in Greek at Chicago were under Benedict Einarson and Gertrude Smith,
who only referred to Paul Shorey in reverent tones (I really was too late for

Edward Hobbs