SBL Proposal Accepted: The case of water-drinking

Compounding and Cogntive Processes in Word Formation with ὑδροποτέω and its relatives:

Discussions of lexical semantics often make assumptions about how meaning works: that the meaning of a word is compositional, the sum-total of its parts. Sometimes this assumption is intentional (structuralist semantics). Other times, it is merely a result of a folk understanding of semantics. And yet, several decades of research exist challenging that assumption (Fillmore 1976, Lakoff 1987, Langacker 1987, Fillmore, Kay, and O’Connor 1988, Sweetser 1991, Goldberg 2006, Evans 2009). Rather than meaning as language-internal, meaning is externally constructed. It is emergent, embodied, social, and constructional. Meaning formation in compounds presents an interesting example of this, one that often seems to be lost on both translations and lexicons. Consider the verb ὑδροποτέω, which Paul uses in 1 Timothy 5:23, exhorting Timothy to change his diet. Both lexicons and translations, intentionally or otherwise, consistently adopt a componential view of this words meaning, glossing Paul’s instruction with some form of: “Do not drink only water.” BDAG includes “only” as a mere parenthetical for its gloss, suggesting that the meaning of the verb is simply transparent to its components: ὕδωρ (water), πίνω (drink). Translations across the spectrum from the highly formal to highly functional continue in the same pattern. Indeed, the NASB italicizes their use of “exclusively” to signal to the reader that the translators added the word for clarity, making a strong claim about the compositionality of the compound. Even the highly functional NLT translation simply states, “Don’t drink only water.” But if we take seriously cognitive linguistics claims about the nature of meaning, then the lexicographical evidence can only be read one way: ὑδροποτέω refers to the behavior “to live in abstinence regarding alcohol” and a better gloss for 1 Timothy 5:23 would be “Stop being a teetotaler.” In this paper, I suggest a path of lexicalization for this verb and its related cognates that begins as a cultural desire for a euphemism for teetotalism, which was then later extended additionally into ascetic lifestyle decisions generally. I conclude that despite the component pieces, this compound was never used to refer to simply drinking water, but that their combination here is the result of an emergent phenomenon motivated by empirically established cognitive processes in meaning formation.


Evans, Vyvyan. 2009. How Words Mean: Lexical Concepts, Cognitive Models, and Meaning Construction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fillmore, Charles. 1976. “Frame semantics and the nature of language.” In Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Conference on the Origin and Development of Language and Speech. Volume 280: 20-32.

Fillmore, Charles., Paul Kay and Mary Catherine O’Connor. 1988. “Regularity and Idiomaticity in Grammatical Constructions: The Case of Let Alone.” Language. 64.3, 501-538.

Goldberg, Adele. 2006. Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalization in Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker Ronald. 1987. The Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Volume I: Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Sweetser, Even. 1991. From Etymology to Pragmatics: Metaphorical and Cultural Aspects of Semantic Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.