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Martha's concerns

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (1 of 12), Read 112 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Barbara Wallraff (msgrammar@theatlantic.com)
Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 09:45 AM

Dorothy Glantz, of Sollentuna, Sweden, writes: "I have been chasing this for weeks: In Swedish there is a saying 'Marta bekymmer,' which refers to Luke 10:38. Mary sits and listens to the Lord, and Martha is busy in the kitchen with the pots and pans and the whatnots. So women here in Sweden can refer to themselves as having 'Marta bekymmer' -- literally 'Martha's concerns,' meaning all the pressing duties, which they themselves feel have to be done instead of (listening to the Lord) chatting, quilting, reading.... Is there an equivalent saying in English?"

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (2 of 12), Read 104 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Aaron Reneker (zanazarius@yahoo.com)
Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 08:42 PM

Of course there is an English word to describe Martha's concerns! It's called humanitarianism. Bad analogy, perhaps, but, hey, if the shoe fits...

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (3 of 12), Read 89 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Miles Cromwell (daveg@wlci.com)
Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 02:28 PM

Ah, but is there a choice word for when one erroneously uses a cliche-- as for example, "if the shoe fits..."

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (4 of 12), Read 88 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Michael Fischer (tsuwm@aol.com)
Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 04:03 PM

I won't claim "choice", but the field of rhetoric gives us catachresis, meaning generally the misuse of words or the use of words inappropriate to a given context. 8-)

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (5 of 12), Read 80 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Aaron Reneker (zanazarius@yahoo.com)
Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 07:43 PM

Okay, okay, so I'm occasionally guilty of using a cliche...but that's just the way the cookie crumbles. :)

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (6 of 12), Read 71 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Tuesday, March 30, 1999 06:12 AM

Luke 10 (NIV)
40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things,

{Note that in "Marta bekymrar", the word "bekymrar" is a verb. In; "Martas bekymmer", "bekymmer" is a noun, and the 's' is needed on the end of Marta to indicate the genitive.}

38 När de nu voro på vandring, gick han in i en by, och en kvinna, vid namn Marta, tog emot honom i sitt hus.
39 Och hon hade en syster, som hette Maria; denna satte sig ned vid Herrens fötter och hörde på hans ord.
40 Men Marta var upptagen av mångahanda bestyr för att tjäna honom. Och hon gick fram och sade: »Herre, frågar du icke efter att min syster har lämnat alla bestyr åt mig allena? Säg nu till henne att hon hjälper mig.»
41 Då svarade Herren och sade till henne: »Marta, Marta, du gör dig bekymmer och oro för mångahanda,
42 men allenast ett är nödvändigt. Maria har utvalt den goda delen, och den skall icke tagas ifrån henne.»


King James:
38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

********************************

What I think we may be talking about here is "Martha's complaint" (about her sister). That is specifically what Jesus is counseling w.r.t. But I must confess that I've never heard anyone talk about Martha's distractions in the US, but I'll ask around. If you do happen to find yourself in a group that might use such a phrase, you might test the following to see if you get a reaction:

Martha's distractions
Martha's worries
Martha's concerns
Martha's cares

Note also that Jesus also pointed out that Marta gjorde sig oro för mångahanda (felt troubled, made herself worried and upset, about many things)

Martha's worries
Martha's anxiety
Martha's troubles
Martha's agitation

I'd be somewhat surprised if there is a cultural translation specifically for what Dorothy Glantz has asked about. Women involved in bible study outside of Sweden are most often not trying to use it to support socialist / feminist doctrine. For more analysis of the particular passages, see
Mathew Henry Commentary, Luke 10

Med vänliga hälsningar
Roger

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (7 of 12), Read 54 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Dorothy Glantz (dml.glantz@swipnet.se)
Date: Wednesday, March 31, 1999 10:42 AM

Roger, you hit the nail on the head (oops! here come the clichés again). ...made herself worried and upset.... The key words here are 'made herself'. What is being discussed here are needs, choices, and perspective- sometimes with capital letters.This discussion of 'Marta bekymmer' or The Martha Syndrome, which I have since learned is the official English translation, started in one of the Business English classes I teach: it seems 'having it all and doing it all' is making the rounds again for the upteenth time. Roger is right- I'm looking for a cultural translation albeit not the one he suggested. Who is the one defining the Need, what are the Choices that result because of this and how straight is the head on to allow even a glimmer of perspective? Martha made the choice of rattling around in the kitchen preparing the food for Jesus and his following (if I remember correctly, he didn't travel alone). She felt this was the needful thing required- the problem is that she blames Mary for not having this same Need and even tries to enlist Jesus in helping her condemn Mary. And I can't believe that Mary did not recognize the need to prepare refreshment or whatever- but her Choice was based on her needs and from a different perspective. Martha got herself- all by her little lonesome- into a dither but tries to find outside reasons for the lamb roast with olives burning up. And goodness knows how much firewood she had to keep running out to get. And besides getting out the kitchen, let's get out of the pigeonhole of 'isms' and into the pigeonhole of 'tions': on one of our first sunny and spring-like days last week here in Sweden, I was walking down one of the main thoroughfares in Stockholm. Approaching me was a young man. An instant appraisal of Armani tie, Bally shoes, ever so slight Gant stubble and elegant stature combined with the fact that he was talking to himself immediately stirred my caring, nurturing, mothering pigeonholed instincts: Oh, such a young man. What a shame. What rubbish! He wasn't talking to himself- he was jibbering into that wire thingy attached to his ear- a product of the telecommunications industry. Was the choice entirely out of his hands (no pun intended) and where did the need begin in the first place- two streets away or as soon as he left the office? It's true that the women in my classes are more familiar with this conundrum than men, but that doesn't limit its dimensions. So, anybody out there want to admit they have the Martha Syndrome? Or, at least know somebody who knows somebody.... And, by the way, is there a cultural translation? ;-)

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (8 of 12), Read 57 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Thursday, April 01, 1999 03:41 AM

I put the question to someone with a better background in Bible studies and got the following response.

***************************

Roger, interesting question! The phrase connotes any distraction that may take you away from listening to the Word of the Lord. Not necessarily hospitality as a distraction, but in this story it was the concern that took Martha away from the Word. Jesus, of course, thought the Word was of great importance, and scolded Martha for choosing the busy work at this time. Her choice of values were called into question. Martha is active and Mary is contemplative. A simple meal is sufficient for hospitality Jesus felt. He was accepting a woman as a disciple in suggesting that Martha do as Mary did, sit down and listen. I dug into my commentaries for the above suggestions, found no English phrase that is as descriptive as the Martha Syndrome.

***********************************

If I'm not mistaken, the common use of "Martas bekymmer" in Sweden has its own special local history. It apparently became a very common phrase in Swedish society in relation to women going to work more and "having it all" and therefore having too much to do. In this common use, I suppose there's a bit of an Archie Bunker (or perhaps Agneta Bunkesson) flavor -- i.e. slightly off the mark and modified to make some other point.

The only reference to it in English that I know of, is related directly to the biblical passage and its direct meaning. Therefore, I do not believe that there is an English phrase that has exactly the same cultural meaning. With that cultural warning, "Martha's Syndrome" or "The Martha Syndrome" appears to be the most commonly used English phrase summarizing Martha's condition in Luke 10:38-40.

One more thing in response to your commentary above; the Mathew Henry commentary makes the point that Martha's service in the kitchen was a good thing, appreciated by all. There was just too much bekymmer och oro over it. I do believe there is a very close relationship between the common meaning of Martas bekymmer in Sweden and what the Bible is teaching, if we somehow get over the fact that in its common Swedish use it doesn't seem people mean to deliver the message as a religious message. Otherwise however, their meaning has to do with not focusing too much on those ordinary duties that one is not participating in other important aspects of life. Still a good message and still, at least in my humble opinion, part of the message that genuinely comes from this biblical story.

I guess you'll have to decide how you might want to present that to your students yourself. Is it close enough for a Business English course? Maybe just telling them that the phrase has not advanced itself to the point of being a common phrase outside of Sweden is good enough. Apparently, most people who use the phrase know that it has biblical origins.

Of course, my hesitation to match the two phrases exactly may partly be due to my poor American interpretation of Swedish culture. I'll add one more fact to the analysis. People in Sweden who have respect for religion, no matter how deep, are still very unlikely to wave a Bible in your face -- if you know what I mean. By contrast, Americans in particular hold such strong feelings related to freedom of religion and speech and feel they must exercise their freedoms quite regularly.

But that little fact opens up a whole vista on Swedish culture and hundreds of years of history in my opinion. Another part of the story is that they are in the final stage of phasing out the state church completely, which is related to hundreds of years of history throughout Europe, relates to the end of the Viking age, etc.

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (9 of 12), Read 50 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Friday, April 02, 1999 07:03 AM

I have just one more comment related to cultural translation. But first -- hey -- those little wire thingies and what people use them for pays my salary. Lets keep to the subject and maybe ask if he's using the thing as part of a balanced lifestyle rather than blaming technology.

Anyway -- given that the phrase "Martas bekymmer" has emerged from the Bible and entered the common culture in Sweden, it's easy to recognize (especially if you've talked to a few people about it) that the precise meaning of the phrase has become quite variable and individualized.

I've talked to people who know that the phrase comes from a Bible story and even know something about the story, and I've spoken with someone who thinks that the story of Marta has to do with an encounter between a woman and a feminist group this century.

My own conclusion is that "the Martha syndrome" is a proper translation. There are people in every country who don't get half the story or meaning right, but I don't see "average interpretation" in any language as reason to stereotype a whole nation.

This really is an interesting phrase to discuss. We actually know, in this case, what the origin of the phrase is. That in itself provides a more concrete platform. The angles and perspectives useful in trying to sort it out are quite penetrating along a number of dimensions. Some wise and insightful guy made an offhand remark in a social situation, and it's having an effect on a culture several thousand miles away thousands of years later, even though not everyone effected really understands it.

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (10 of 12), Read 47 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Barbara Wallraff (msgrammar@theatlantic.com)
Date: Friday, April 02, 1999 09:48 AM

Roger,

Allow me to present you with the Word Fugitives Special Agent of the Week award, for posting so thoughtfully, in a way so useful to the person who wrote the letter. This seemingly abstruse topic in fact relates to everyone's life.

Well done. Congratulations! A member of the Atlantic Unbound staff will be in touch about your WFBI prize. Happy Easter.

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (11 of 12), Read 42 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Saturday, April 03, 1999 04:52 AM

För all del! (trans: Don't mention it. (Sort of, but finding a really good cultural translation is another story.))

Word fugitives is quite interesting and I enjoyed the investigation.

Tack och Glad Påsk. (Thanks and Happy Easter.)

Roger

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Topic: 3) Martha's concerns (12 of 12), Read 3 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Deborah Moore (cogito@pivot.net)
Date: Thursday, April 08, 1999 08:07 AM

Fascinating discussion on the historical background.

Still, what shall we say that Martha has?

I say it's "an overdeveloped sense of responsibility".

Perhaps "shouldism"? This has the visual advantage of implying that she's "shouldering" too much...

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Topic: Martha's concerns (1 of 2), Read 19 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Ric Johnson (ric@bitchen.com)
Date: Wednesday, April 07, 1999 08:27 AM

The only idiom I can think of that seems to be similar to Swedish "Martha's Concerns" is "things to do, places to go, people to see."

This usually implies "I'd like to do what you're doing, but I have pressing duties."

Maybe that's just a midwestern thing.

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Topic: Martha's concerns (2 of 2), Read 13 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Wednesday, April 07, 1999 11:35 AM

Been there. Done that.


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