I peed my pants!

Posted: 18th October 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

Returning to Kevin Sam’s list of interesting idioms in the NEB, I wanted to take a closer look at Ezekiel 21.7, which the NEB translates as:

When they ask you why you are groaning, say to them, ‘I groan at the thing I have heard; when it comes, all hearts melt, all courage fails, all hands fall limp, all men’s knees run with urine. It is coming. It is here.’ This is the very word of the Lord God.

The same expression appears in Ezekiel 7.17, where the NET has this translation note:

Heb “their knees will run with water.” The expression probably refers to urination caused by fright, which is how the LXX renders the phrase. More colloquial English would simply be “they will wet their pants,” but as D. I. Block (Ezekiel [NICOT], 1:261, n. 98) notes, the men likely wore skirts which were short enough to expose urine on the knees.

The NETS translation of the LXX renders the phrase in question as “all thighs shall be sullied with moisture.” Most translations from the Hebrew translate the highlighted phrase as “all knees will be weak as water” (cf. NLT, NASB, KJV, etc.) or even more genericly, “all knees will turn to water” (cf. NRSV, REB, etc.).

If we focus on the “caused by fright” aspect of this idiom, then the translation of the NLT, KJV, NASB et al. is more easily understood. To be “as weak as water” implies a knee-knocking experience in which you’ve lost the foundational support of your legs. Atheletes with wobbly knees have to wear braces in order to keep competing or their legs will “go out from under them”.

However, as best as I can understand it, the literal Hebrew is “will flow as water” or “will run with water”. Further, an alternate meaning of the word for “water” is “waters of the feet”, which is a reference to the Hebrew idiom “cover his feet” – that is, the act of pulling down your robes, skirts or pants to go to the bathroom – and opens the door for understanding this phrase as someone who has lost bladder control. This is the more vivid path that the LXX and NEB translators chose, as did the NET Bible and TNIV:

NET: Every heart will melt with fear and every hand will be limp; everyone will faint and every knee will be wet with urine.

TNIV: Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every knee be wet with urine.

Whether formal (“as weak as water”) or functional (“be wet with urine”), all of these translations are still grounded in the form of the underlying Hebrew or Greek and have not fully utilized an equivalent English idiom. Or at least I’m not recognizing “as weak as water” as a common idiom, even if we understand what it means.

It seems that if a translation were to render this passage with a modern English idiom, they would have two choices:

Every heart melts and every hand goes limp; every spirit becomes faint and every knee buckles beneath them.’

Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and in fright they will wet their pants.’

Which sounds more likely?

  1. Damian says:

    E.S., I think ‘wet their pants’ is the right idiom to use. But maybe, if you were to use that one, you wouldn’t render the rest of the phrase so formally: “Your men will lose heart, drop their weapons, become faint and wet their pants in fear.”

  2. But of course, as is noted above, they weren’t wearing pants. I would go with “in fright they will wet themselves.” Excellent post, ElShaddai!

    PS: I have found a goodly amount of information on the NEB among my long exiled books, so it looks like I’ll finally be able to get to work on that!

  3. tc robinson says:

    El, this is good stuff. I’ll have to go with the functional:

    Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and in fright they will wet their pants.

    This captures the Hebrew idiom quite well, in my opinion.

  4. Nathan Stitt says:

    In military slang we’d probably say “piss themselves” but that’s probably too idiomatic for holy writ. Also, the Message says “knees turn to rubber” which I can’t relate to.

  5. Damian says:


    I believe the KJV says ‘piss themselves’, actually. Ahh, no it doesn’t.

    But, in 1 Samuel 25:22:

    “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”.

    So I think ‘pisseth themselves’ is valid. :).

  6. @Damian – I agree that “wet their pants” is more colloquial and that the rest of the verse would need to be modified as well to match the tone.

    I also wonder if the “in fear” or “in fright” meaning is supplied or suggested by “every spirit becomes faint”, such that those two phrases could be translated together.

    “Your men will lose heart, drop their weapons and wet their pants in fear.”

  7. @Esteban – looking forward to your NEB material… time to get the wheels going again on that project!

    @Nathan – thanks for the note on The Message. I’ve heard of “rubber legs”, but not “rubber knees”…

    @Nathan/Damian – maybe the HCSB should have used “piss themselves” in their “HCSB for Soldiers” edition! If I were updating the KJV, “pisseth themselves” might very well be an option here. It’s a far better choice than the childish “have an accident”…