Re: Bad Greek -Reply

Don Wilkins (
Mon, 4 Nov 1996 17:59:28 -0800

Carl Conrad said:

>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.

Bravo, Carl, exactly so! (You'll all notice that I now occasionally have
Eudora access; I'll try not to get carried away with duplicating the
previous message in the reply.) In teaching through some of the Republic
this quarter, I'm amazed at how many constructions I find that seem awkward
or qualitatively borderline. My real point is not that what I proposed is
an acceptable definition of "good" Greek, but that if this is hard to
define, it is even harder to define "bad" Greek. In his Gospel, I think
Luke does a fine job through the first four verses, and thereafter I think
he is deliberately holding to the style of his eye-witnesses (who are
probably speaking Aramaic for the most part), no doubt biting his lip.

>> 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.

You always find a way to teach and entertain us at the same time, Carl;
blessed are those who are privileged to study at your feet (and thanks for
the compliment).

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside