Translating Evil Communication in the Public Sphere

face of a prisoner

During the period associated with the rise and flourishing of the public sphere in England, concern about evil communication shifted from the danger of high-status rhetoric (“evil speeches”) to the danger of associating with low-status persons (“bad company”). The public sphere and deliberative democracy in England are thought to have developed in the seventeenth century and to have been well-established by the middle of the eighteenth century. From the middle of the sixteenth century to the late nineteenth century, the meaning of evil-communications phrase shifted from evil verbal practices, to evil communication, and then to companionship with bad persons. By the start of our current communication-enriched millennium, the evil-communication phrase has became a warning against associating with rogues and failing to live according to acclaimed social conventions (“reputable lifestyles”).

Translating the Evil-Communication Phrase

textual formsourcedate
φθείρουσιν ήθη χρήσθ’ όμιλίαι κακαίMenander, as cited by Jerome in 397 CEc. 300 BCE
φθείρουσιν ήθη χρήσθ’ όμιλίαι κακαίCodex Vaticanusc. 325 CE
corrumpunt mores bonos colloquia malaJerome's Vulgatec. 405 CE
evil speeches destroy good conductWycliff Bible1382
malicious speakings corrupt good mannersTyndale Bible1525
evil words corrupt good mannersGreat Bible1539
evil speakings corrupt good mannersGeneva Bible1560
evil communications corrupt good mannersRheims Bible1582
evil communications corrupt good mannersKing James Bible1611
evil companionships corrupt good moralsEnglish Revised Version1881
bad company ruins good moralsRevised Standard Version1946
bad company corrupts good characterNew International Version1973
bad company corrupts good habitsOrr and Walther {Anchor Bible}1976
belonging to bad gangs ruins reputable lifestylesThiselton {book-length scholarly commentary}2000

The evil-communication phrase occurred in a variety of ancient texts. Its long, historic voyage of interpretation suggests that public deliberation systematically disadvantages ordinary communication among low-status persons.^ Prisoners are among the lowest of low-status persons. Ordinary personal communication with prisoners has historically been devalued. High-status communication has shown little concern for the extent of imprisonment, particularly imprisonment of men.

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