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  #1  
Old 01-02-2010, 08:37 AM
fighting ignorant fighting ignorant is offline
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"Suffer the little children" - meaning?

You hear this quote from time to time, usually used as some sort of creepy sound bite (a-la the Stephen King short story of that name). What is the meaning of this phrase in its original context?
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  #2  
Old 01-02-2010, 08:40 AM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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"Allow" the little children (to approach me). "Suffer" means "permit" in this context.

Edit: The New International Version has "When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." [Mark 10:14]

Last edited by hibernicus; 01-02-2010 at 08:42 AM..
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  #3  
Old 01-02-2010, 08:44 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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"And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God" - Mark 10:13-14

Jesus is telling his disciples to allow the children to come up to him. It's only used in the other way because we rarely use "suffer" to mean "allow" these days.
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Old 01-02-2010, 08:46 AM
chrisk chrisk is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
"Allow" the little children (to approach me). "Suffer" means "permit" in this context.
That's my understanding too.

The original context is the Bible, an incident that is recorded in Matthew chapter 19, Mark chapter 10, and Luke chapter 18.

The local Jews bring a bunch of little rugrats to see Jesus, and his Apostles try to run interference, figuring that the last thing the big boss wants is to deal with small tykes. After the kids crowd around him Jesus drops the moral of the story: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."

I hope that that helps. *Waves at Zsofia on preview.*
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  #5  
Old 01-02-2010, 09:06 AM
fighting ignorant fighting ignorant is offline
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Straight Dope - awesome as usual! 3 solid answers in under 10 minutes. Thanks guys!
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  #6  
Old 01-02-2010, 09:28 AM
Canadjun Canadjun is offline
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See meaning 4 of suffer.
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  #7  
Old 01-02-2010, 10:33 AM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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Perhaps now the meaning of the women's suffrage movement will make more sense to you.
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Old 01-02-2010, 10:54 AM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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The phrase "tenants at sufferance" comes to mind -- 'suffer' in the sense of allow, permit is still a standard usage. A tenant at sufferance is simply someone who does not have a current lease, a person renting month to month. Our experience as renters has been that landlords offer the legally required lease for the first year, then continue to collect the rent without offering to renew the lease. This means that each month's rent payment buys you the right to occupy your dwelling place (apartment, house, etc.) for that month -- with no guarantees beyond that month except as provided by law. You're occupying it at the sufferance of the landlord, that is, in exchange for rent he permits you to live there, without an explicit written contract, the conditions of the lease being presumed to hold over on a month-to-month basis until he or you chooses to change them -- you can move out on proper notice, and owe him nothing (other than possible forfeiture of all or part of a damage security deposit); he can give you notice he's raising the rent.

'Suffer' in this sense works a lot like 'let' -- if you say, "Let's go to the beach," your meaning is, "I suggest we go to the beach if you agree"; it's not instructions to someone to grant permission to go, even though it sounds like it.

Similarly, 'suffer' has traditionally carried the meaning of 'permit, allow' -- the more common meaning of 'be in pain' derives from the idea that you, or the world in general, is permitting the person suffering (in this sense) to remain in pain, rather than acting to alleviate it.
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Old 01-02-2010, 11:10 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by Polycarp View Post
'Suffer' in this sense works a lot like 'let'
Whereas 'let' used to mean 'prohibit', as in 'without let or hindrance' to mean 'without any barriers'.
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Old 01-02-2010, 03:26 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
Whereas 'let' used to mean 'prohibit', as in 'without let or hindrance' to mean 'without any barriers'.
So "Let him suffer!" would have almost reversed in meaning over 300 years?
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  #11  
Old 01-02-2010, 04:48 PM
jackelope jackelope is offline
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On a tangential note, I read an Ann Landers column a decade or more ago in which the letter-writer bemoaned the decline in parenting skills among the hoi polloi these days. The letter ended with: "And suffer the children."

What the writer meant, of course, was "and the children suffer." Somehow the use of pseudo-classical rhetoric and genuine linguistic ignorance to stake out the moral high ground really rubbed me the wrong way, and I still can't see the phrase "suffer the children" without wishing I'd written a crackpot letter about it. Not that it would have achieved anything, of course.
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  #12  
Old 01-02-2010, 04:56 PM
Tom Tildrum Tom Tildrum is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
Perhaps now the meaning of the women's suffrage movement will make more sense to you.
I believe that "suffrage" is unrelated to "suffering."
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  #13  
Old 01-02-2010, 07:36 PM
BobArrgh BobArrgh is offline
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I believe that Gary T's point is that the "woman's suffrage movement" refers to "allow women [the right to vote] movement".
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  #14  
Old 01-02-2010, 07:39 PM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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Originally Posted by BobArrgh View Post
I believe that Gary T's point is that the "woman's suffrage movement" refers to "allow women [the right to vote] movement".
Exactly.
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  #15  
Old 01-02-2010, 07:41 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is offline
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There are probably areas of the Bible belt where the King James version of the passage is cited in support of corporeal punishment in order to raise children to be God-fearin' Christians.
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Old 01-02-2010, 08:43 PM
Huerta88 Huerta88 is offline
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Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
There are probably areas of the Bible belt where the King James version of the passage is cited in support of corporeal punishment in order to raise children to be God-fearin' Christians.
I don't know why you'd think that and I'm not seeing any support for it. The people here who understood the accurate meaning were the people who were obviously familiar with the context of the verse. The people who use it conveying the wrong meaning are the ones who take it out of the Biblical context (Stephen King, presumably for intentional wordplay purposes, and Ann Landers, probably not among America's leading exponents of the New Testament).

The passage in the Bible doesn't make a bit of sense using the other meaning. "Punish the children to come unto to me?" Right after the disciples had been, well, trying to swat the kids away but he rebuked them? Nah.

Nice gratuitous dig at them dumb fundy hillbillies though.
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  #17  
Old 01-03-2010, 12:59 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
There are probably areas of the Bible belt where the King James version of the passage is cited in support of corporeal punishment in order to raise children to be God-fearin' Christians.
Nitpick: it's "corporal" punishment.
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  #18  
Old 01-03-2010, 01:03 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
Nitpick: it's "corporal" punishment.
Yeah, but Corporal Punishment was promoted to Major Havoc and then General Mayhem!
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  #19  
Old 01-03-2010, 02:30 PM
panamajack panamajack is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
Exactly.
But Tom Tildrum was merely pointing out that the two words have almost nothing to do with each other in terms of origin. 'Suffrage' is from sub + fragor (under + 'sound of approval'), and 'suffer' comes from sub + ferre (under + carry). 'Suffrage' as in right to vote can be attested to 1787.
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Old 01-03-2010, 04:51 PM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by panamajack View Post
But Tom Tildrum was merely pointing out that the two words have almost nothing to do with each other in terms of origin. 'Suffrage' is from sub + fragor (under + 'sound of approval'), and 'suffer' comes from sub + ferre (under + carry). 'Suffrage' as in right to vote can be attested to 1787.
Thanks for pointing that out, and my apologies to Tom Tildrum for not picking it up from his link. I had assumed, incorrectly, that the words came from the same root. You gentlemen have reduced my ignorance.
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  #21  
Old 01-03-2010, 06:18 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is offline
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Originally Posted by Huerta88 View Post
Nice gratuitous dig at them dumb fundy hillbillies though.
Thank you.
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  #22  
Old 01-03-2010, 08:03 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
There are probably areas of the Bible belt where the King James version of the passage is cited in support of corporeal punishment in order to raise children to be God-fearin' Christians.
Let's keep religious jabs out of GQ, please. No warning issued.

Colibri
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Last edited by Colibri; 01-03-2010 at 08:03 PM..
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  #23  
Old 01-03-2010, 08:13 PM
LouisB LouisB is offline
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Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
Thank you.
"Thank you" doesn't satisfy me; your comment irritated me beyond belief. It's pistols at dawn, chum or Bowie knives at midnight, while seated on a log with our left wrists bound together. You bring the knives and if I'm not there, cut yourself a few times and then go home.
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  #24  
Old 01-03-2010, 09:01 PM
jackelope jackelope is offline
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Originally Posted by Huerta88 View Post
...and Ann Landers, probably not among America's leading exponents of the New Testament....
Just for the sake of completeness: I was insufficiently clear in my previous post. The letter-writer, not Ann Landers, was the person misusing the phrase, though Ms. Landers ran it without comment.
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  #25  
Old 01-03-2010, 09:04 PM
CC CC is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp View Post
The phrase "tenants at sufferance" comes to mind -- 'suffer' in the sense of allow, permit is still a standard usage. A tenant at sufferance is simply someone who does not have a current lease, a person renting month to month. Our experience as renters has been that landlords offer the legally required lease for the first year, then continue to collect the rent without offering to renew the lease. This means that each month's rent payment buys you the right to occupy your dwelling place (apartment, house, etc.) for that month -- with no guarantees beyond that month except as provided by law. You're occupying it at the sufferance of the landlord, that is, in exchange for rent he permits you to live there, without an explicit written contract, the conditions of the lease being presumed to hold over on a month-to-month basis until he or you chooses to change them -- you can move out on proper notice, and owe him nothing (other than possible forfeiture of all or part of a damage security deposit); he can give you notice he's raising the rent.

'Suffer' in this sense works a lot like 'let' -- if you say, "Let's go to the beach," your meaning is, "I suggest we go to the beach if you agree"; it's not instructions to someone to grant permission to go, even though it sounds like it.

Similarly, 'suffer' has traditionally carried the meaning of 'permit, allow' -- the more common meaning of 'be in pain' derives from the idea that you, or the world in general, is permitting the person suffering (in this sense) to remain in pain, rather than acting to alleviate it.
So we can now pretty easily complicate this beyond repair by remembering that a synonym for "to rent" is "to let."
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  #26  
Old 01-03-2010, 09:40 PM
Koxinga Koxinga is offline
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Originally Posted by CC View Post
So we can now pretty easily complicate this beyond repair by remembering that a synonym for "to rent" is "to let."
Doesn't the Bible frown upon those who have rent their garments?
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