Superfluity of naughtiness

– “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1. xxi – Epistle for the fourth Sunday after Easter).

It always brings a smile to my face as I remember my choirboy days when we would snigger on hearing this epistle. The word “naughty” or “naughtiness” has a different meaning today than in the days of the King James Bible and the Prayer Book. In our time, we speak of naughty children as those who are mildly misbehaved or getting up to mischief, playing practical jokes and so forth. We will say sternly to a dog that has just chewed our favourite slippers “naughty boy (girl)”. If we are overweight, our attention might be caught by an advertisement for sweet desserts with the words “naughty but nice”. The word also has a smutty association with jokes about sex told in pubs or at football matches by lewd men. It hasn’t always had this mild and amusing meaning.

In older times, naughtiness meant true malice and wickedness. A modern translation of the pericope might read something like “excess of wickedness”, which would not simply be smuttiness or a lewd notion of sexuality, but all the moral issues endemic in humanity throughout history. The sins of thought, word and deed are many. Some are committed through weakness, and others with full commitment of the will and knowledge of the seriousness.

All the same, the words evoke lewd levity and a certain joy in the Lord’s House.

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5 Responses to Superfluity of naughtiness

  1. It is a nice expression.

  2. A godly Anglo-Catholic priest I knew in my youth in the robustly protestant Diocese of Sydney would jokingly refer to his biretta as his “superfluity of naughtiness.”

  3. Ken Adams says:

    Once saw a delightful marginal note added to psalter in the choir stalls at Coventry Cathedral in Warwickshire. By the side of ‘the Lord sware and will not repent’ was added ‘Um! telling’

    • I’m glad it wasn’t some nice set of medieval stalls in another cathedral that got marked. It just shows how words change their meanings. “Nice” used to mean precise, “repent” to change attitude, “swear, sware (past tense)” to swear an oath rather than say “fucking hell” or whatever. Quite amazing. For us to acquire a sense for classical English – once learned, there’s no further problem.

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