“Johnny! Watch the Snake” [Emphasis in Written Language]

It’s difficult to express emphasis in the written language, though quite easy in the spoken language.  Take the simple command, “Johnny, watch the snake.”  What is my emphasis when I write that?  You can’t really tell, can you.  But compare if I use bold to emphasize a word or two and how it completely changes the meaning of the command.

  • Johnny! Watch the snake” – In that command, I’m trying to get little Johnny’s attention [no doubt because he has AD(H)D and I need him to LISTEN!]
  • “Johnny, Watch the snake!” Poor little Johnny.  He wants to do anything else but watch the snake, so I’m making sure by emphasizing “watch” that I want him to–you know—watch the blooming thing.
  • Johnny.  Watch!  The Snake!! – In this sentence, I’m screaming at little Johnny to watch out because the nasty snake wants to bite him and make him suffer and die!  “Watch out, little Johnny, run from that snake!”

Emphasis is easy in the spoken language, but not so easy in the written language, at least in English, although we do have markers that we use to show emphasis.  If a character says, “Listen!” and then says something else, then we know that at least that particular character means to say something important [kind of like when momma grabs little Johnny’s chin and directs his eyes into hers and says, “Listen, little Johnny…” Even poor, stupid Johnny knows that what is coming out of momma’s mouth next is going to be worth hearing.  You never had your momma do that?  Hmm….must have been me, well, it was really my brother, Dan, but I digress].

The Greek language has a bunch of “markers” when it is written in order to emphasize something.  It could be a marker that says, “Listen up, what is coming next is very important!” – “Truly, truly, I say unto you.” [Short digression:  In the Marines, they did this by (I’m not making this up) literally knocking on wood.  Everyone who was napping through the most boring lecture in the history of the world immediately woke up and grabbed their pens because what was coming up next was going to be on some test in the future–not that it was ever me sleeping, “no sir, the candidate was not sleeping, sir!”]. It could be placing a word or set of words in the sentence in a particular place in order to emphasize it [English generally does NOT do this, so it is impossible to pick up in English translations.  See little Johnny and the snake above]. It could be making something overly-specific in order to emphasize it [Example: “I could really use a Citizen, titanium, self-winding Blue Angels watch.”  This sentence would mean exactly the same thing if I wrote it like this: “I really need a watch.”  Why don’t I write it like that?  Because I don’t want any old $15 Casio watch.  I want a cool Citizen with a bunch of gizmos and dials on the watch.  I have been overly-specific so you know what I want].  The New Testament does this a lot!

Here is one example from my current study passage.  In John 3.12, it says: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” What does John emphasize here by the way he writes Christ’s words?  You can’t tell, can you.  Here is how the verse looks translated with the emphasis from the Greek: “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” [By the way, even your average Greek stud couldn’t tell you this.  One has to be a super Greek stud to pick out stuff like this].  How do I know this?  I’m glad you didn’t asked.

I got it from what is called the High Definition New Testament by Steve Runge [who is a super-duper Greek stud.  Seriously].  Unfortunately, one can only use it with Logos Bible Software, so there is that barrier. It is useful if one is a serious student of the Bible, not necessary, but nice to have for sure because you’ll be able to pick up emphasis in the text that you can’t really get any other way. [No, neither Steve nor Logos pays me to say this].


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3 Responses to “Johnny! Watch the Snake” [Emphasis in Written Language]

  1. Pingback: Emphasis: “You do not Understand These Things?” | On Eagles Wings

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  3. Pingback: John 8.1-11: Discourse Analysis [A Big word that makes me sound smart] | On Eagles Wings

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