Translating Doublets

A common expression among American English speakers is “pick and choose”.  Some people may associate a different meaning with “pick” than they do with “choose”, but Webster’s Dictionary indicates that their meaning overlaps for most people.  So I think this is a fairly good example of a synonymous doublet, two or more words within a sentence that convey essentially the same meaning.

The Bible contains hundreds of doublets.  In Doublets in the New Testament, Bruce Moore lists 654 doublets of various types in the New Testament alone.  Here are some examples of synonymous doublets from the Revised Standard Version:

          1 Timothy 3:3   not violent but gentle                                         
                            6:9    ruin and destruction           
                            6:18  do good . . . good deeds
                            6:18   liberal and generous

           2 Timothy 2:23   stupid, senseless
                             3:10   patience . . . steadfastness

Without knowing that many doublets convey the same meaning, readers often assume that different meanings are intended.  To avoid misunderstanding, many English translations express such doublets as a unit.  For example, the Contemporary English Version translates the doublet greater in might and power (RSV) in 2 Peter 2:11 as more powerful.

In a study of 121 verses containing doublets in the Hebrew scriptures (mostly from Psalms and Proverbs), translator/consultant Wayne Leman calculated what percentage of those doublets are conveyed as a unit in several English versions:

            69%   Contemporary English Version         
            37%   Today’s English Version
            20%   New Living Translation                
             11%   New Century Version             
               5%   New English Translation
               3%   God’s Word
               2%   New International Version
               2%   New Revised Standard Version

In The Better Life Bible, I’ve translated every synonymous doublet as a unit.  For example, in my translation of 1 Timothy 6:18, I expressed the doublet “liberal and generous” as “generously.”