“Acting indecently is like pleasure to a fool.” This verse is a wonderful example of how the nature of Proverbs pulls us into thought, prayer, and meditation. There are so many nuances of meaning to the words involved that the translator has an impossible time bringing them all into English. This is the reason for the many different translations of this verse, which though similar in many ways, differ quite significantly in what they mean.
“Acting indecently.” The Hebrew word is zimmah (#02154 זִמָּה), and it can mean a plan or an intention, either good or bad; or lewd, crass, and shameful behavior, or villainy, which are often sexual in nature. The preponderant number of uses of this word in the OT are sexual in nature, and fools tend toward the lewd and shameful, so it makes sense in this context to use a translation that is more sexual in nature than just criminal in nature. Perhaps, “Lewd behavior” would have been very good.
“pleasure.” The Hebrew word is sechoq (#07814 שְׂחוֹק), and it means laughter, pleasure, mockery, or derision. Waltke writes, “The 15 occurrences of sechoq in poetry denote an outward audible expression of inner mirth and pleasure….”a The lewd and shameful behavior of the fools produces such pleasure that he laughs and squeals with delight. The fool finds fun and pleasure in doing wrong. It entertains him. In contrast, the man of understanding finds pleasure in making wise choices. Due to the range of meaning in the verse, a sampling of translations can be helpful if one is to more fully understand it.
ESV: Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.
KJV: It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom.
NASB: Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool; And so is wisdom to a man of understanding.
NIV: A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.
NJB: A fool takes pleasure in doing wrong, the intelligent in cultivating wisdom.
Waltke: To commit villainy is like [the pleasure of laughter] to a fool, but wisdom [is like the pleasure of laughter] to an understanding person.