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I do so enjoy words, so naturally I was quite delighted by some recent quips and chatter about the word “debauchery.” So, if debauchery is bad, does that mean we should now bauch instead?

Alas, no. Bauch is a word with Scottish origins and it means “inferior, substandard.”  When we add “de” to “bauch” we are actually drawing on the Latin form of “de,” in this particular case meaning, “from, down, among.”  So “to debauch”  means to,  “bring forth what is substandard and inferior.”

Lots of references to debauching fair maidens in the historical record there too, but that was actually a  form of slang, a cultural indulgence. In its archaic form, to “debauch” actually meant to lead astray, to entice someone into disloyalty, as in to debauch soldiers out of service to their king. Eventually it came to mean, to subvert, to lessen, to cheapen.

To make small, to bring forth what is substandard, and to relieve of nobility.

During the time the King James bible was written, there was concern about disloyalty to the king and about the infidelity of soldiers. Soldiers could become a real problem if they drank too much, ate too much, or were led astray and defected, hence the word “debauchery.” The Greek words that were translated actually meant a variety of things, such as “in excess” or “to riot.” Also, “to enfeeble, to make soft, and to create effeminacy.”

You can see us struggle with the precise Greek definitions of various words in Ephesians 5:18. The American Standard version says, “And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot…” The King James version says,  “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess…” The English standard version says, ” And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery….” 

This matter crops up in many other places in the bible too, and reveals some of our translation struggles. The NIV says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” To drink wine can lead to debauchery,  meaning it’s not the act of drinking wine itself that is the debauchery, but rather they are translating the idea that drinking wine can lead to riots, strife, and fighting (also known as excess, violence, and debauchery.)

The antonyms, the opposites of “debauchery” are actually to uplift, to elevate, and, to ennoble. To glorify, dignify, and magnify. To promote, to increase in significance, and to intensify. To boost, heighten, and strengthen. To enhance, or to increase in value, quality, or desirability. To enrich, perfect, refine, and upgrade.

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