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In the Bible there is a references to having one's sins "blotted out" [Acts 3:19 KJV]. This expression made me think about how a writer might "blot out" an error on a manuscript, where it was written on parchment or paper in ink.

I know that sand was used to dry ink in days gone by, but how would a scribe "blot out" words in order to make them disappear?

Knowing how words would literally be "blotted out" when written with a quill and ink, for example, would help me to grasp the significance of the expression to have sins "blotted out".

P.S. I am unfamiliar with the correct tags to use for this question, or even if this is the right site to ask. Any suggestions on how to improve this question would be appreciated.

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    "Blotting ink" isn't "blotting out" - blotting ink is removing excess ink, not removing all the words; see for instance this. There are SE groups for Christianity and Biblical Hermeneutics which are probably more suited to explaining what the Bible means (note that the KJV isn't always a very accurate translation of the Greek so you are better looking at other sources) , and a Crafting SE which will explain how to blot ink.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 2 at 8:54
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    As Peter Shor says in a comment below, the KJV rendering isn't the original inspired text. It does seem that the translators used a certain metaphor here, again as Peter implies possibly not the best way to go about translating this passage. My Bible dictionary has 'obliterate', though in honesty I must add it also has 'smear out', as the better translations. // Restricting the KJV example to an early example rather than an attempt at a translation, the rationale behind the multi-word verb 'blot out' does seem curious, though the 'smear out' rendering I mentioned seems closely connected. We... Jun 2 at 11:39
  • do commonly use 'wipe out' for 'exterminate', 'eradicate', 'destroy completely'. Jun 2 at 11:39
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    @EdwinAshworth - Appreciate your comments and editing the tags.
    – Lesley
    Jun 2 at 13:58

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Fortunately, the OED gives the same example as you quote:

5.a. figurative. To efface, wipe out of existence, sight, or memory; to annihilate, destroy.(Usually with out.)

1561 T. Norton tr. J. Calvin Inst. Christian Relig. i. f. 19 Vtterly to blot and deface it out of mennes remembrance.

1611 Bible (King James) Acts iii. 19 Repent yee therefore..that your sins may be blotted out.

The figurative sense arises from the literal idea that a blot will cause a word, etc., to be obscured completely and, as the word was written in ink, the blot will dissolve its ink and the word, ect., is destroyed.

4. To make a blot over (writing) so as to make it illegible; to obliterate, efface. (Usually with out.)

1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 458/2 Who hath blotted out this worde.

The "out" is an adverb and indicates complete removal as in "The landlord said he was drunk so he threw him out." / "They put the fire out."

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    Appreciate the clarity and simplicity of your answer in dealing with the literal as well as the figurative aspects of the expression.
    – Lesley
    Jun 3 at 9:03
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Are things not removed simply by excess of ink. An ink blot covers everything under it. A sojourn to the metaphorical aspect: sins remaining in the past, regardless of what virtue or forgiveness covers them.

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  • Interesting take with regard to ink. I also started to think about stains made by, for example, red wine, which is very difficult to remove, but not impossible. The image here is not just covering up something with another stain, but removing the stain completely. Applying this to something that is intangible (sins) is what prompted my question.
    – Lesley
    Jun 2 at 8:13
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    I believe most phrases using the word blot out regard something being placed in front of something else, obscuring it, causing it to disappear only by way of being covered. Dark clouds blot out the sun. You blot out a difficult memory by keeping busy. (These examples are from the Cambridge Dictionary: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/blot-out-something.)
    – Ian
    Jun 2 at 10:30
  • @PeterShor - I believe the expression "that your sins may be blotted out" (or wiped out in another translation) is a metaphor. The apostle Peter spoke those words in Acts 3:19.
    – Lesley
    Jun 2 at 10:49
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    @Lesley: No, he didn't. Peter didn't say those words; he was probably speaking Aramaic, and the words in the original Greek version of the New Testmanet do not literally translate to "blotted out". Jun 2 at 11:00
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    Scripture must be understood when read in the context of other Scripture. God has removed [the sin of believers] from us as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12). Not just a cover-up, an infinite distancing. Jun 2 at 11:45
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To go with @Greybeard's excellent answer, I quote below some other examples from the OED entry for blot, starting with a very good definition and proceeding to a literal artistic use of it in the sense requested over several centuries.

(A. 1786) A. Cozens New Method in Drawing Landscape 7 "A blot is an assemblage of dark shapes or masses made with ink upon a piece of paper. All the shapes are rude and unmeaning, as they are formed with the swiftest hand. But at the same time there appears a general disposition of these masses, producing one comprehensive form."

(1931) Times 24 Mar. 19/6 "Examples of Cozens's `blots' have long been known. But it was only the other day that five blots accompanied by the five drawings made from them, were discovered."

(1962) Listener 19 July 95/2 "The manipulation of accident in the blot landscapes of Alexander Cozens."

(1910) Edin. Rev. Apr. 371 "Painters are accustomed to speak of the `Blot' of a picture, meaning its immediate appearance as colour, line, massing, or flat space."

(C. 1325) E.E. Allit. P. A. 781 "Vnblemyst I am wyth-outen blot."

All of these refer to a blot as a large smear of ink, obscuring what might lie beneath it, but presenting as a blank. The metaphor of blotting out sin refers to a written account of sin, which can be blotted.

The meanings (literal and metaphoric) are all coherent with the 3 phonosemantic senses of the English assonance BL-: Contained Fluid, Color/Eye, and Excess.

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