Re: Bad Greek -Reply

Carl W. Conrad (
Sun, 3 Nov 1996 20:18:53 -0600

I shall try to be brief in making a couple comments on this judicious
statement by Don Wilkins about a difficult subject.

At 5:38 PM -0600 11/3/96, wrote:
>As usual, my apologies in advance if I am being redundant. While I don't agree
>with Randy that this construction or that in the NT is bad Greek, I commend
>him heartily for attempting to define the concept "bad Greek," which is too
>often used very subjectively as a term. I would also suggest that along the
>lines of Randy's proposal we might add to the hypothesis that bad Greek is
>that which does not occur in good writers of Greek in a given time period.
>In reality, I think even this more narrow definition will prove useless in
>defining what "bad" Greek is, so I would propose another, somewhat similar
>definition: Good Greek is probably that which is found in a good writer etc.

Aha! The catch: what is the standard by which we judge which is the good
writer and which is not? Unless we can define the standard, I think this
definition becomes rather difficult to sustain. Actually, I suspect we're
likely to agree that Luke writes the best narrative prose in the NT--but
why do we say that? Is it a matter of taste (and if so, what are the
factors that shape such taste?) or is it a matter of consistent and regular
usage? Or conformity to our expectations of intelligible Greek? WHY are we
likely to agree on Luke's Greek as the best NT prose? Or do we agree?
Perhaps it's a more complicated question.

> One final thought from my conversations with Dan just came
>to mind: bad Greek could be defined as that solecism which is due to the in-
>competence of the writer; but an apparent solecism by an otherwise good
>writer is possibly intentional. That is, one who knows the rules is perhaps
>entitled to break the rules.
>Don Wilkins (who must be a very good writer of English because he [I] so
>often breaks [break] the rules)
>UC Riverside

Marvelous closing comment and a marvelous piece of self-irony in the
signature! I think the above aphorism is very true. The Latin poet Vergil
is a splendid example; as the Vita by Servius-Donatus shows, contemporary
grammarians scoffed at some of his bold "violations" of grammar, but
shortly after his death Latin prose and poetry alike were being written in
imitation of his usage and style. maybe this is the answer to the question
above. It is the "classic" that impresses itself upon our consciousness as
"good Greek" because it sets forth clearly and memorably and consistently a
kind of writing which readers in great numbers find themselves admiring and
attempting to imitate,whether or not they succeed.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR