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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxxiv. μωρολογία, αἰσχρολογία, εὐτραπελία.

All these designate sins of the tongue, but with a difference.

Μωρολογία, employed by Aristotle (Hist. Anim. i. 11), but of rare use till the later Greek, is rendered well in the Vulgate, on the one occasion of its occurrence (Ephes. 5:4), by ‘stultiloquium,’ a word which Plautus may have coined (Mil. Glor. ii. 3. 25); although one which did not find more favour and currency in the after language of Rome, than did the ‘stultiloquy’ which Jeremy Taylor sought to introduce among ourselves. Not merely the πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν of our Lord (Matt. 12:36), but in good part also the πᾶς λόγος σαπρός of his Apostle (Ephes. 4:29), will be included in it; discourse, as everything else in the Christian, needing to be seasoned with the salt of grace, and being in danger of growing first insipid, and then corrupt, without it. Those who stop short with the ἀργὰ ῥήματα, as though μωρολογία reached no further, fail to exhaust the fulness of its meaning. Thus Calvin too weakly: ‘Sermones inepti ac inanes, nulliusque frugis;’ and even Jeremy Taylor (On the Good and Evil Tongue, Serm. xxxii, pt. 2) fails to reproduce the full force of the word. ‘That,’ he says, ‘which is here meant by stultiloquy or foolish speaking is the “lubricum verbi, ” as St. Ambrose calls it, the “slipping with the tongue” which prating people often suffer, whose discourses betray the vanity of their spirit, and discover “the hidden man of the heart.”’ In heathen writings μωρολογία may very well pass as equivalent to ἀδολεσχία, ‘random talk,’ and μωρολογεῖν to ληρεῖν (Plutarch, De Garr. 4); but words obtain a new earnestness when assumed into the ethical terminology of Christ’s school. Nor, in seeking to enter fully into the meaning of this one, ought we to leave out of sight the greater emphasis which the words ‘fool,’ ‘foolish,’ ‘folly,’ obtain in Scripture, than elsewhere they have, or can have. There is the positive of folly as well as the negative to be taken account of, when we are weighing the force of μωρολογία: it is that ‘talk of fools,’ which is foolishness and sin together.

Αἰσχρολογία, which also is of solitary use in the N. T. (Col. 3:8), must not be confounded with αἰσχρότης (Ephes. 5:4). By it the Greek Fathers (see Suicer, Thes. s. v.), whom most expositors follow, have understood obscene discourse, ‘turpiloquium,’ ‘filthy communication’ (E. V.), such as ministers to wantonness, ὄχημα πορνείας, as Chrysostom explains it. Clement of Alexandria, in a chapter of his Poedagogus, περὶ αἰσχρολογίας (ii. 6), recognizes no other meaning but this. Now, beyond a doubt, αἰσχρολογία has sometimes this sense predominantly, or even exclusively (Xenophon, De Rep. Lac. v. 6; Aristotle, Pol. vii. 15; Epictetus, Man. xxxiii. 16; see, too, Becker, Charikles, 1st ed. vol. ii. p. 264). But more often it indicates all foul-mouthed abusiveness of every kind, not excluding this, one of the most obvious kinds, readiest to hand, and most offensive, but including, as in the well-known phrase, αἰσχρολογία ἐφ᾽ ἱεροῖς, other kinds as well. Thus, too, Polybius (viii. 13. 8; xii. 13. 3; xxxi. 10. 4): αἰσχρολογία καὶ λοιδορία κατὰ τοῦ βασιλέως: while the author of a treatise which passes under Plutarch’s name (De Lib. Ed. 14), denouncing all αἰσχρολογία as unbecoming to youth ingenuously brought up, includes therein every license of the ungoverned tongue employing itself in the abuse of others, all the wicked condiments of saucy speech (ἡδύσματα πονηρὰ τῆς παῤῥησίας); nor can I doubt that St. Paul intends to forbid the same, the context and company in which the word is used by him going far to prove as much; seeing that all other sins against which he is here warning are outbreaks of a loveless spirit toward our neighbour.

Εὐτραπελία, a finely selected word of the world’s use, which, however, St. Paul uses not in the world’s sense, like its synonyms, occurs only once in the N. T. (Ephes. 5:4). Derived from εὖ and τρέπεσθαι (εὐτράπελοι, οἷον εὔτροποι, Aristotle, Eth. Nic. iv. 8. 4; cf. Pott, Etym. Forsch. vol. v. p. 136), that which easily turns, and in this way adapts, itself to the shifting circumstances of the hour, to the moods and conditions of those with whom at the instant it may deal;1 it had very slightly and rarely, in classical use, that evil signification which, as used by St. Paul and the Greek Fathers, is the only one which it knows. That St. Paul could be himself εὐτράπελος in the better sense of the word, he has given illustrious proof (Acts 26:29). Thucydides, in that panegyric of the Athenians which he puts into the mouth of Pericles, employs εὐτραπέλως (2:41) as == εὐκινήτως, to characterize the ‘versatile ingenium’ of his countrymen; while Plato (Rep. viii. 563 a) joins εὐτραπελία with χαριεντισμός, as do also Plutarch (De Adul. et Am. 7) and Josephus (Antt. xii. 4. 3); Isocrates (Or. xv. 316) with φιλολογία; Philo (Leg. ad Cai. 45) with χάρις. For Aristotle, also, the εὐτράπελος or ἐπιδέξιος (Ethic. Nic. ii. 7; iv. 8; compare Brandis, Aristoteles, p. 1415) is one who keeps the happy mean between the βωμολόχος and the ἄγριος, ἀγροῖκος, or σκληρός. He is no mere γελωτοποιός or buffoon; but, in whatever pleasantry or banter he may allow himself, still χαρίεις or refined, always restraining himself within the limits of becoming mirth (ἐμμελῶς παίζων), never ceasing to be the gentleman. Thus P. Volumnius, the friend or acquaintance of Cicero and of Atticus, bore the name ‘Eutrapelus,’ on the score of his festive wit and talent of society: though certainly there is nothing particularly amiable in the story which Horace (Epp. i. 18. 31–36) tells about him.

With all this there were not wanting, even in classical usage, anticipations of that more unfavourable signification which St. Paul should stamp upon the word, though they appear most plainly in the adjective εὐτράπελος: thus, see Isocrates, Orat. vii. 49; and Pindar, Pyth. i. 92; iv. 104; where Jason, the model of a noble-hearted gentleman, affirms that during twenty years of fellowship in toil he has never spoken to his companions ἔπος εὐτράπελον, ‘verbum fucatum, fallax, simulatum:’ Dissen on this last passage traces well the downward progress of εὐτράπελος: ‘Primum est de facilitate in motu, tum ad mores transfertur, et indicat hominem temporibus inservientem, diciturque tum de sermone urbano, lepido, faceto, imprimis cum levitatis et assentationis, simulationis notatione.’ Εὐτραπελία, thus gradually sinking from a better meaning to a worse, has a history closely resembling that of ‘urbanitas’ (Quintilian, vi. 3. 17); which is its happiest Latin equivalent, and that by which Erasmus has rendered it, herein improving much on the ‘jocularitas’ of Jerome, still more on the ‘scurrilitas’ of the Vulgate, which last is wholly wide of the mark. That ‘urbanitas’ is the proper word, this quotation from Cicero attests (Pro Coel. 3): ‘Contumelia, si petulantius jactatur, convicium; si facetius, urbanitas nominatur;’ which agrees with the striking phrase of Aristotle, that εὐτραπελία is ὕβρις πεπαιδευμένη: ‘chastened insolence’ is Sir Alexander Grant’s happy rendering (Rhet. ii. 12; cf. Plutarch, Cic. 50). Already in Cicero’s time (De Fin. ii. 31) ‘urbanitas’ was beginning to obtain that questionable significance which, in the usage of Tacitus (Hist. ii. 88) and Seneca (De Irâ, i. 28), it far more distinctly acquired. The history, in our own language, of ‘facetious’ and ‘facetiousness’ would supply a not uninstructive parallel.

But the fineness of the form in which evil might array itself could not make a Paul more tolerant of the evil itself; he did not count that sin, by losing all its coarseness, lost half, or any part of, its malignity. So far from this, in the finer banter of the world, its ‘persiflage,’ its ‘badinage,’ there is that which would attract many, who would be in no danger of lending their tongue to speak, or their ear to hear, foul-mouthed and filthy abuse; whom scurrile buffoonery would only revolt and repel. A far subtler sin is noted in this word than in those which went before, as Bengel puts it well: ‘Haec subtilior quam turpitudo aut stultiloquium; nam ingenio nititur;’ χάρις ἄχαρις, as Chrysostom has happily called it; and Jerome: ‘De prudenti mente descendit, et consulto appetit quaedam vel urbana verba, vel rustica, vel turpia, vel faceta.’ I should only object, in this last citation, to the ‘turpia,’ which belong rather to the other forms in which men offend with the tongue than to this. The εὐτράπελος always, as Chrysostom notes, ἀστεῖα λέγει: keeps ever in mind what Cicero has said (De Orat. ii. 58): ‘Haec ridentur vel maxime, quae notant et designant turpitudinem aliquam non turpiter.’ What he deals in are χάριτες, although, in the striking language of the Son of Sirach, χάριτες μωρῶν (Ecclus. 20:13). Polish, refinement, knowledge of the world, presence of mind, wit, must all be his;—these, it is true, enlisted in the service of sin, and not in that of the truth. The very profligate old man in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus (iii. 1. 42–52), who prides himself, and not without reason, on his wit, his elegance, and refinement (‘cavillator facetus,’ ‘conviva commodus’), is exactly the εὐτράπελος: and, keeping in mind that εὐτραπελία, being only once expressly and by name forbidden in Scripture, is forbidden to Ephesians, it is not a little notable to find him urging that all this was to be expected from him, being as he was an Ephesian by birth:

‘Post Ephesi sum natus; non enim in Apulis, non Animulae!’

See on this word’s history, and on the changes through which it has passed, an interesting and instructive article by Matthew Arnold in the Cornhill Magazine, May, 1879.

While then by all these words are indicated sins of the tongue, it is yet with this difference,—that in μωρολογία the foolishness, in αἰσχρολογία the foulness, in εὐτραπελία the false refinement, of discourse not seasoned with the salt of grace, are severally noted and condemned.


1 Chrysostom, who, like most great teachers, often turns etymology into the materials of exhortation, does not fail to do so here. To other reasons why the Christians should renounce εὐτραπελία he adds this (Hom. 17 in Ephes.): Ὅπα καὶ αὐτὸ τοὔνομα· εὐτράπελος λέγεται ὁ ποικίλος, ὁ παντοδαπὸς, ὁ ἄστατος, ὁ εὔκολος, ὁ πάντα γινόμενος· τοῦτο δὲ πόῤῥω τῶν τῇ Πέτρᾳ δουλευόντων. Ταχέως τρέπεται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ μεθίσταται.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G148,G2160,G3473.]

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