So this Sunday’s GD lesson is Mosiah 7-11. The very first verse of the reading, 7:1, reads as follows:
1 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings. (Emphasis added.)
And you know, that word “teasings” just never felt right to me. I try to imagine Nelson of the Simpsons saying to Bart/King Mosiah: “Remember those people who went back to try to claim the land of Lehi-Nephi? And how they never came back? And for all we know they’re dead? HAH HAH!!!” That simply doesn’t work for me.
The verb “tease” derives from the Old English taesan meaning “pluck, pull –> pull apart comb,” originally used for separating fibers of wool, etc., and in modern English for combing hair.
The sense in which we’re accustomed to using this word is as follows:
Make fun of or attempt to provoke (a person or animal) in a playful way: Brenda teased her father about the powerboat that he bought but seldom used
[no object]: she was just teasing
[with direct speech]: “Think you’re clever, don’t you?” she teased
This is the dominant sense of the word in modern English, and it simply doesn’t work in our Mosiah passage.
But it’s important to grasp the evolution of the word. The original meaning was the one about separating strands of wool or whatever. This led to a figurative use, “irritate by annoying actions.” The joking, playful overlay we’re used to is a developed sense from that earlier, more serious meaning. And to me, the more serious version of the word makes more sense in our passage. The people weren’t playfully kidding King Mosiah about the loss of their people; they were harassing him for not having done anything about it. It wasn’t a laughing matter.
Last time I did a post like this Grant Hardy came by to chastise me for not checking Skousen’s Textual Variants volumes. And he was right. So I took a look to see if Skousen had a comment on this, and indeed he does, at 2:1208. There is no textual variant here, but Skousen comments on it anyway, for as he says “The common modern-day meaning of the verb tease is inappropriate here in Mosiah 7:1 since there seems to be no jesting in these teasings.” Citing the OED, he points out that the earlier meaning of tease did not imply jesting, but “to worry or irritate by persistent action which vexes or annoys.”
He even cites from the OED an example of the plural verbal noun, from Jonathan Swift (1731): “Sir Robert weary’d by Will Pulteney’s teazings.”
So the word “teasings” is not as strangely inappropriate to the context of Mosiah 7:1 as it may seem at first blush to a 21st century English reader.