Fun With Translation: Drinking Groups (huh?!)

A Group of Drinks (drinking group?)

Okay, before you raise your eyebrows TOO high over the title and picture for this post, read on…


Gather ’round, and let’s talk about gathering round!

Groups. How do languages express this concept in their unique ways? I just encountered a fun example.

I was working through a consultant check of our translation of Mark 6:39-40. This is part of the gospel story of Christ’s Feeding Of The Five Thousand. What we see here is reason #3,291 (okay, I made that number up) why literal translation does not work. It’s actually not really translation at all.

In verse 39 Christ tells his disciples to have the people “sit in groups.” Then in the next verse, the people “sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.”

There are two problems with this. First of all, in the original Greek, a different word for “group” is used in each instance. So a stickler might ask if Christ’s command was actually fulfilled, since the people did not sit in the same kind of group he wanted (that’s ridiculous, of course).

But here’s the fun part. The first word for group is sumposion. This word is the ancestor of our word “symposium.” In the first century, its literal meaning was “drinking group.” Yes, you read that correctly. Drinking group. Few translators, no matter how literal their style, will have Christ commanding that. And no linguistics symposium I’ve ever been to involved drinking.

The second word used for “group” is prasia, which is based on the Greek word prason (leek). So it means something along the lines of “onion patch.”

And to give the idea of row upon row of leeks planted in garden patches, it is actually repeated as prasia-prasia, which is a Hebrew way of pluralizing, even though this is written in Greek! So it’s Onion! Onion! Sounds like a topping for Little Ceasar’s Pizza! Pizza!

So there you have it. Christ asked the people to sit in “drinking groups” and they sat in “onion patches” (Greek, pluralized using a Hebrew reduplication).

How much weirder can language get?


“Cocktails” – image by Royce B. McClure (used by permission)

About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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