phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: The Blair Which? Project

Posted by ESC on November 26, 2004

In Reply to: The Blair Which? Project posted by Lewis on November 26, 2004

: : : : : : : : : I just read the story behind the Tower of Babel. I've read the phrase used as a metaphor often times. While the webpages and the Wikipedia tells me the myth behind the legend, what gives for it's metaphorical vernacular? I'd be happy to see some citations and a corresponding explanation for each. One or two will do.

: : : : : : : : : Thanks!

: : : : : : : : From Bible Gateway, King James Version:

: : : : : : : : Genesis 11
: : : : : : : : 1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
: : : : : : : : 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
: : : : : : : : 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
: : : : : : : : 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
: : : : : : : : 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
: : : : : : : : 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
: : : : : : : : 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
: : : : : : : : 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
: : : : : : : : 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth...

: : : : : : : : I thought this phrase would be easy to find in my references. But it wasn't. I found:

: : : : : : : : "Babel (Akkadian Bab-ilu, 'gate of God'). A confusion of noises or voices; a hubbub. The allusion is to the confusion of tongues during the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)." From "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).

: : : : : : : : I have also heard it used to mean confusion on a subject. Then there's this meaning:

: : : : : : : : "...The Babel story had great significance for the early Israelites, because it provided an explanation for the name of the city of Babylon, which in the native Sumerian language meant 'gate of the gods' but in Hebrew was related to the word for 'to confuse.' In other words, the composer of Genesis was using a bilingual pun to disparage the people who later captured the people of Israel and held them captive in the city of Babylon.

: : : : : : : : In another context, the story once again shows men trying to be 'like gods' and how unfavorably God views that idea. It was an idea opposed not only by the God of the Israelites but by the gods of many mythologies..." From "Don't Know Much About the Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Good Book but Never Learned" by Kenneth C. Davis (Eagle Brook, New York, 1998.)

: : : : : : : interesting that Babylon could be 'babble-on' like baby-talk.

: : : : : : : there is some deep psychological level to the Tower of Babel story I reckon - babies (note the word!) don't appear pre-programmed with a particular language - they have an intuitive I/O system from which they develop one (or more) language(s). the people in the story had one voice and with that almost anything were possible - but their aims were misdirected. in the story, God prevents their waste of effort and resources by interfering with communications and encouraging the loss of the common tongue.

: : : : : : : as they lost their fluidity and the language hardened into distinct variations, the capacity for massive-scale co-operative action were lost and so the pointless self-aggrandising program had to be abandoned.

: : : : : : : there are lots of points to debate in that story, but one that occurs to me is that the divisions of language can act as a brake and make people evaluate rather than rush ahead. it is like when one find it helps to articulate a problem to another person.

: : : : : : : it also makes me wonder whether the US shares some characteristics with Babylon, which was described in the Bible as the Great Whore i.e. anything for money.

: : : : : : : getting real natty dread here!

: : : : : : : L

: : : : : : Excuse me?

: : : : : When I was musing on the Tower of Babel and the role of Babylon, I got to thinking about Rastafarianism and the Book of Revelation. In the Bible, the personification of evil is 'Babylon' and Babylon is described as the "Great Whore" - which is the sense that Rastafarians use too. The implications of whoredom are that everything has a price - nothing is sacred. To me, rampant capitalism without accepting responsibility for the harm it does, is one of the great evils personified in 'Babylon'. I was struck by the coincidence of US forces in Iraq, which has geographical similarity with Old Testament Babylonia, waging a military campaign which appears to many people to be about re-asserting dominance of the capitalist system.

: : : : : I'm not anti-capitalist or anti-American, but the antics of the present regime distress me. it is a shame that we didn't get to vote - if the world had had a say, Bush would be out. How the American people could vote him in again mystified us Brits.

: : : : : 'Natty dread' is a Jamaican/Rastafarian expression.

: : : : : Lewis

: : : : You wanted examples, right? Here are some pretty old ones from the oED: Babel ... a. a lofty structure; b. a visionary scheme.
: : : : 1382 WYCLIF Gen. xi. 9 Therfor was callid the name of it Babel, for there was confoundid the lippe of all the erthe. 1667 MILTON P.L. III. 468 And still with vain designe New Babels, had they wherewithall, would build. 1703 MAUNDRELL Journ. Jerus. 16 What remains of this mighty Babel..is no more than twenty Foot high. 1711 STEELE Spect. No. 167 {page}3 The fond Builder of Babels. 1847 TENNYSON Princ. IV. 59 Let be Their cancell'd Babels.
: : : : 2. A scene of confusion; a confused assemblage.
: : : : 1625 FLETCHER Nt. Walker (T.) All the chambers Are a mere babel, or another bedlam. 1703 MAUNDRELL Journ. Jerus. 48 A mere Babel of broken Walls. 1731 SWIFT Repeal Test Act (T.) The whole babel of sectaries joined against the church. 1860 G. MORRIS Poems 173 We are only two, dear brother, in this babel wide!
: : : : 3. A confused turbulent medley of sounds.
: : : : a1529 SKELTON El. Rummyng 387 A clatterynge and a babell Of folys fylly. 1863 KINGSLEY Water Bab. i. 32 Such a noise, row, hubbub, babel, shindy, hullabaloo. 1884 Manch. Exam. 16 Sept. 4/7 This confused and confusing babel of..idle objurgations." SS
: : : :
: : : Astute contributors have noted the possible connection of babies and their inchoate speech with the linguistic confusion of the famour Tower. This is what the OED says about "babble v." (from which "babble n." is derived). "Cf. Du. and LG. babbelen, Ger. pappelen (bappelen), Da. bable, Icel. babbla (not known in OE., ON., OHG); F. babill-er, 15th c. in Littré: cf. also It. babbolare to play the baby. In some of these languages probably adopted from others; in none can its history be carried far back; as yet it is known in English as early as anywhere else. Probably formed (with frequentative suffix -le; cf. prattle) on the repeated syllabic ba, ba, one of the earliest articulate sounds made by infants, fitly used to express childish prattle. No direct connexion with Babel can be traced; though association with that may have affected the senses.]" SS

: : The Bush Administration isn't the United States. We who are struggling to turn the great ship of state around are getting a mite toucheous about the whole thing.

: Similarly the UK is not yet Tony's republic, but he's trying - getting a bit despotic for my liking. You're fortunate in a way - in Britain, we vote for members of parliament and the parliamentary party of elected MPS then decides the leader - if we could vote for the Prime Minister separately, it might enable us to get rid of individuals even if the policies of the party as a whole are acceptable.
: at present, the administration has a majority and can pass laws that nobody would have voted for - a small number can decide the agenda - if the PM could be kicked out of office whether or not the party was in power, that clique might be more careful in the laws/policies they forced through.

: in the US, you can remove the man at the top without changing the general political agenda, which is an attractive idea at the moment for us Brits.

: what we can't figure out is why the people didn't take that opportunity.

We can't figure it out either. All I can tell you is that the majority of the voters seem to think that Bush is "God's man."