Feet, Navels and Other Naughty Things

So it starts with James McGrath, who started a discussion about the the Book of Ruth. He reflects on some of the central themes, including the romance – or lack thereof – between Ruth and Boaz:

My students were fairly sure that there isn’t really any [romance] in the book – certainly not in the sense that we find it in the Song of Songs … A textbook I used to use spoke of “romance” in the book, while the one I currently use is clear that modern romance simply isn’t there, but something that modern readers in certain cultural contexts tend to read into the text.

This led Ian at Irreducible Complexity to reflect on the rather earthy joke at the center of the text, which makes it clear that it was a crude seduction rather than a romance. Ruth is said to have approached Boaz while he was passed out from drinking and “uncovered his feet and laid down.” Ian points out that there’s a double entendre here that’s probably original to the oral versions:

The word I translated ‘feet’ (“margeloth”) seems to be deliberately ambiguous: elsewhere the sex organs are euphemistically called ‘feet’ […] I should be explicit and say that I am not suggesting that ‘margeloth’ should be translated ‘crotch’ here. Those who want Ruth to be pious rightly point out that this is overstepping the text. But the nuance wouldn’t have been lost, surely. Knowing it could be used that way, it seems a stretch to suggest it isn’t used with at least a nod and a wink.

… which brings us back to the Song of Solomon, the english versions of which led that Jeff Carter guy to wax limerick-al about translations and naughty words:

Solomon described her, foot to head
for poetry woos women to bed;
your navel is refined
may it never lack wine
but “navel” isn’t what Solomon said.

Our English translations are too tame
to accept what’s actually named,
for we can’t even say
the word vajayjay,
and we cover it all with great shame.

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