What does a Rhode Island idiom have to do with the Bible? Actually, a lot. The question “Would you like a cabinet?” does not refer to a wooden box with doors; it is a milkshake. Since it is made by a blender that is normally stored in a cabinet–the ice cream and milk blend is called a “cabinet.”
The language phenomenon is a metalepsis or a metonomy and it is a natural result of all language development and richness; the English language excels in the formation of the figures. In many cases, like this in the Northeastern US, a variety of idioms are developed in one region that do not exist in another region although both regions speak the same language.
Another metalepsis example is the British English “He drank his house”. It means he sold his house, plus he drank the drink he bought with the house income. We put house, money, then drinking the liquid to represent the whole process!
Look at Ecclesiastes 12:5.
“Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:” (Ecclesiastes 12:5 KJV)
Notice the phrase. “and desire shall fail:” Literally, the Hebrew text is “the caper-berry shall fail.”
The Revised Version of 1881 reads: “and the caper-berry shall fail”
The New American Standard Bible (1965) reads: “and the caperberry is ineffective.”
It is easy to see above that both the RSV and the NASV translated the Hebrew, literally. The translation conveys no meaning and is simpleton activity. Just as the Texas visitor to Rhode Island would sit and blink when asked if he would like “a cabinet”, the Bible reader wonders what in the world does “caper-berry shall fail” mean. Correct translation is not word for word in such cases because there are language idioms which carry meanings deeper than the surface phrase. The sense of the language must be translated or else there is nonsense. Accurate translation demands that, as much as possible, the target translation must convey the same understanding to its reader that it conveyed to the reader of the source language. This requires accurate knowledge of both the source language (in this case Hebrew) and target language (English) including the idioms and all figures of speech.
The RSV translation was ridiculed and eventually most modern translations, NIV, New Century, etc., capitulated and agreed with “the old, out-dated, archaic King James Bible. The KJB had it right 250 years before the critics caught on.
Let’s examine the metalepsis in the Bible translation.
Introductory phrase: “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high,
1. and fears shall be in the way,
2. and the almond tree shall flourish,
3. and the grasshopper shall be a burden,
4. and desire shall fail:
All of these build to the concluding major statement:
“because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: “
The Hebrew “caper-berry shall fail” is like our English “cabinet” and “house” example above. Caper-berry is put for the condiments made from it, then condiment is put for the appetite or food created by it.
Another figure of speech “and the almond tree shall flourish” is a conceptual metaphor (one domain stands for another domain). At first glance one might think “flourish” is a good condition and is in opposition to the other terms (afraid, fears, burden, fail, etc) which very definitely indicate failure and decay. But the appearance of many white blossoms on the almond tree is actually near the end of the tree’s purpose. The almond tree’s blossoms are white, like the hair of the aged and they quickly fade and fall.. Those who are familiar with almond trees know the metaphor.
Accurate translation of the Old Testament is impossible if the Hebrew idioms are ignored. Hebrew is rich in idioms and figures of speech. The metalepsis (desire shall fail) and metaphors are not the only translation features at work in the KJB text. There is use of the figure, polysyndeton. Ecclesiastes 12:5 has a series of phrases connected with the conjunction “and”. This series is a polysyndeton, a figure of speech meaning “many connectors” for the purpose of bringing an increasing force of related statements to a crescendo of expression. This translates in a correct scriptural sense and is also a magnificent literary device that makes reading and hearing a pleasure. ( The polysyndeton is an often used feature in the Hebrew text. This can easily be seen in the KJB’s faithful and majestic use of “and” in Genesis 1:1-ff.)