“Wait what?” moments in Greek grammar #2

That moment when you read in BDAG (and BAGD, too) that σκοτίζω’s middle form has the function of:

The passive of moral darkening.

That’s about as beautiful as some of Wallace’s (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) categories for case (especially the genitive ones). This particular instance seems to be an effort on the part of the editors to account for the fact that this instance of the verb takes a θη form in the perfective aspect and the verb itself is not ‘deponent’. If you can’t account for θη not actually being passive with the normal punt to deponency (which is a fancy word for ‘I don’t understand this’), I suppose making up an entirely new category for a single verb is the next best thing.

Update: So my good friend Stephen Carlson pointed out that the abbreviation ‘pass.’ in BDAG can also mean ‘passage’ rather than ‘passive’ and suggested that is the better reading here. Contextually, it makes more sense, but in terms of English grammar, that’s an incredibly odd use of the preposition ‘of’: “the passage of moral darkening.”

So maybe just bad English instead of bad linguistics–either way still a “wait what?” though.

Update to the Update: After more examination, I’m back to being convinced ‘pass.’ does indeed refer to ‘passive’. Consider the entry for βόσκω as evidence:

② to feed on herbage, graze, feed, pass. of livestock (Is 5:17; 11:7; Jos., Bell. 6, 153; SibOr 3, 789) ἀγέλη βοσκομένη Mt 8:30; Mk 5:11; Lk 8:32. πρόβατα βοσκόμενα (PTebt 298, 53) Hs 6, 2, 4, cp. 7; sim.

I looked up every single reference here. All involve middle forms of the verb. Every single one of them. So here’s a ‘passive of livestock.’

Update to the Update’s Update:

So ‘pass.’ does mean passive here, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. I’ve got a follow up on the way now.

8 thoughts on ““Wait what?” moments in Greek grammar #2

  1. “Passive of moral darkening” is great. One time on a Latin exam we were supposed to be categorizing the ablative use. I couldn’t remember what the actual term was (probably something lame like “manner”). So I made up the “ablative of fear”. I think I may have even received partial credit! People like evocative terms.

  2. Could it rather mean: “in passive, of livestock:…”, i.e. in passive form this is used as an idea of livestock grazing. Likewise for σκοτίζω: in passive, used to refer to moral darkening.

    1. There are actually three sets of punctuation:

      pass. of x
      pass.: of x
      passive., of x

      Now that I’ve looked at how these three punctuations function throughout the lexicon, I now need to write an entirely new blog post detailing it out. So, no, these aren’t Wallace-esque categories, but they are observations about the relationship between certain verbs, voice, and contexts at different degrees of grammaticalization and the first one, pass. of x, involves the closest relationship between the use of the voice form and the ‘of x’ construction.

    2. This is how I would take it as well in both cases. “The middle/passive form, when used of livestock (which by definition is a heard of animals owned by someone, not merely a heard of wild animals), is used passively”. All that’s saying is that livestock don’t graze themselves, so the form which may serve as middle or passive only makes since in the passive in such context. Likewise, the middle/passive form of σκοτίζω has a passive meaning in the figurative sense of moral darkening … as opposed to being literally darkened by someone/something such as being sun-tanned by someone🙂.

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