Bad Greek -Reply

Randy Leedy (
Sat, 02 Nov 1996 11:32:58 -0500

Jonathan Robie posted the following, responding to my statements,
which he includes:

>> Leaving aside the terminology about attraction and the exact
>> definition of it, there's still a point I hope I can maintain:
>> that the examples I offered as bad Greek are, in fact, bad Greek,
>> and that THAT SORT of attraction does not occur.

>I often see these kinds of statements here. Since none of us speaks
>Hellenistic Greek as our native language, how can we prove that such
>constructions are bad Greek? A construction is not bad simply
>because it is unusual. And what criteria do we use for bad Greek?
>The Chicago Manual of Style doesn't cover Hellenistic Greek.

>What constitutes "bad English"? Did Martin Luther King use bad
>English? did Ogden Nash? does Leo Rosen? does Brother Blue? Suppose
>we had to analyze current American usage thousands of years later,
>without access to English grammars. How would we determine what is
>bad and what is good?

I think this is a good question; one that I hope will generate some
discussion. I'm not sure I've seen it discussed at length here.

I've missed a day or two's digests due to an interruption of email
service, so I don't know yet what may have already been written in
response. I may repeat someone else; if so, perhaps the agreement of
two independent sources will have value enough to justify the extra
space taken up. If I contradict someone else, then we'll have fun
watching the fur fly!

To defend myself, I'll call attention to my statement: "...the
examples I offered as bad Greek are, in fact, bad Greek, and that
THAT SORT of attraction does not occur." I think the technical term
for what I did in this sentence is "hendiadys" (derived from hEN DIA
DUO), a figure of speech in which a single idea is conveyed through
two different expressions. My use of the phrase "bad Greek" is
potentially misleading; that is why I attached the second clause,
which I intended to define the first: bad Greek is that which does
not occur.

The difference between defining bad grammar as something that DOES
not occur (among skilled writers, that is) and defining it as
something that CANNOT occur is important. I do not maintain that
something inherent in the theory of Greek grammar prevents the
attraction of a relative pronoun from the nominative to an oblique
case. I simply question whether it actually does occur.

My own view of the right way to view "rules" of grammar is that they
are DESCRIPTIVE, not PRESCRIPTIVE (this is standard terminology).
That is, grammar is not law legislating what can and cannot be
written or said; it is a set of observations about what skilled users
of a language actually do write or say. This view holds, as far as I
can tell, for both ancient and modern languages.

This is why I'm looking for an incontrovertible instance, in a good
writer, of a relative pronoun attracted from the nominative to an
oblique case. I'm not interested in the pontifications of a
grammarian, but rather in an actual occurrence in the literature.

>> But we can replace our English lens with a Greek one by looking at
>> some examples of similar constructions in which the subject is
>> unquestionably an infinitive phrase.

>Is it really that easy? Does that mean that any time someone turns a
>unique phrase, it is bad Greek?

I don't mean to imply that this is always easy. If the English lens
CAN at all be replaced with a Greek one, looking at examples is the
only way to do it. (This, I gather, is essentially what you did in
Germany, except that you were working with the language in both
directions, a privilege that we enjoy hardly at all with Koine Greek,
and which I've been trying to approximate by seeking feedback to some
hypothetical examples of "bad Greek") The particular kind of
construction I'm looking at (relative pronouns attracted to the case
of their antecedent) is common enough that we should be able to get a
pretty good handle on this particular point of Greek usage.

I think that, by reading enough Greek, we can gain an intuitive
understanding of the language that will allow us to evaluate a unique
turn of phrase as grammatically weak or solid, just as we do in our
native language. But I do agree with you, that we can never be as
confident about our mastery of a "dead" language as about our mastery
of a living one. (Sometimes we even overestimate our ability to judge
someone's usage of our own language!) The same principles are at work
in both case; confidence is a matter of degree, based on exposure to
the language. Such mastery of Greek as I have, which does not measure
up to that of many of our list members, leads me to think that
attraction from the nominative would be awkward (because the
nominative seems less interchangeable with the oblique cases than
they are among themselves), and that's the point I've been trying to
explore, admittedly somewhat clumsily.

I will admit, in closing, that I'm a lot less adamant about it now
than I was at the beginning, and I'm even softening a bit toward that
sentence in Acts 22:10. EXAMPLES, EXAMPLES, EXAMPLES! That's what I'm
looking for as the basis for whatever view I end up taking.

In Love to God and Neighbor (and Greek, may I add?),
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC