Coming Back to English Generics

A couple days ago, I wrote:

Why in the world should we be translating generics with a “generic” he or man when even the people who claim that English hasn’t changed accidentally misinterpret English generics as only having a male referent???

Nathan Smith was interested in examples to back up this question

Joel thought such an approach might be valid for familiar phrases, but even then he wouldn’t consider it acceptable.

I agree with Joel – and I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you at all…

As for Nathan, yes, I do have a very prominent example. One that appears in a book that had the major thesis arguing masculine gender generics should always be represented in translation if possible: The Gender Neutral Bible Controversy byVern S. Poythress and Wayne Grudem (you can download it HERE, if you’d like). In this book, Grudem & Poythess in their discussion of ANER, failure to recognize the word “man” from the 19th century as generic even though, in context, it clearly is:

The Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition with Supplement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), gives the following meanings for anēr:

I. man, opposed to woman (anthropoi being man as opposed to beast). II. man, opposed to god. III. man, opposed to youth, unless the context determines the meaning … but anēr alone always means a man in the prime of life, esp. warrior. IV. man emphatically, man indeed. V. husband. VI. Special usages [several idioms are given] (p. 138).

It is significant that neither of these two standard lexicons indicates that the word loses its male marking in any of its usages.  In the present controversy, we should be suspicious of any attempts to overthrow such well-established boundaries to the range of meanings of a word, especially in a time when major forces in the culture are pressing us to eliminate male oriented language (and therefore male markings on words!), and
especially if these attempts are accompanied by no new data, but only appeal to the same old data that scholars have seen for centuries (Page 309).

I’ve bolded the words in question. “Man,” in this case, is generic. If this entry being written today, the sense would most definitely be listed as, “II. human, opposed to god” rather than “man.” But Gruden & Poythress write in their following paragraph as if this instance of “man” is a male referring word rather than a generic. And they are wrong on this point.

So, why do we claim that these sorts of generics are still understandable today, when we don’t understand them today?

Why are they acceptable in translation?

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