Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Verbiage: Mountebank and Sciolist

Among the holiday gifts that have occupied these early cold winter evenings the last few weeks in the Riddle household have been “Big Boggle” [yes, it’s even bigger than regular Boggle; and there's apparently even a "Super Big Boggle," but we haven't gotten that one yet] and “Word Wave.”  The combination of these games and continuing work on a project of abridging, simplifying and editing two of John Owen’s essays on Scripture in Volume 16 of his Works has inspired a new occasional series of Stylos post under the label “Verbiage.”  These posts will explore various, mostly English, words and phrases, and their usages.

Here are two interesting words I recently ran across in Owen’s “Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture:”

1.  Mountebank (noun):

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers two definitions:

(1)  A person who sells quack medicines from a platform.
(2)  A boastful, unscrupulous pretender.

Synonyms would include charlatan, swindler, fraud, phony, sham, pretender.

It also lists the first usage as 1577 and its origins as from the Italian montimbanco, which literally means to climb upon or mount a bench.

John Owen uses the term in the context of warning against those who would use alternative renderings in the LXX to suppose corruption in the traditional Hebrew text.  He thus urges his readers “to do what in us lieth to prevent that horrible and outrageous violence which will undoubtedly be offered to the sacred Hebrew verity, if every learned mountebank may be allowed to practice upon it with his conjectures from translations” (Works, Vol. XVI, p. 408).  It is almost as if Owen had thumbed through a modern OT translation!

2.  Sciolist (noun):

The basic meaning of this word is “one who knows a little.”  It apparently comes from the late Latin sciolus, meaning someone with a smattering of knowledge, from scire, “to know.”  Compare:  scientist.

The adjective form would be sciolistic.

John Owen uses this term in his discussion of the Arabic translation of the Bible, much as he used mountebank above, to describe those with little learning who make too much of divergences in the Arabic version from the Hebrew to allege corruptions in the traditional Hebrew text.  Thus, he notes:  “It is the way of sciolists, when they have obtained a little skill in any language or science, to persuade the world that all worth and wisdom do lie therein….” (Works, Vol. XVI, p. 411).


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