King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

The impact of the King James Bible

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King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#1  Postby CJ » Jan 18, 2011 10:41 am

King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

The impact of the King James Bible, which was published 400 years ago, is still being felt in the way we speak and write, says Stephen Tomkins.

No other book, or indeed any piece of culture, seems to have influenced the English language as much as the King James Bible. Its turns of phrase have permeated the everyday language of English speakers, whether or not they've ever opened a copy.

The Sun says Aston Villa "refused to give up the ghost". Wendy Richard calls her EastEnders character Pauline Fowler "the salt of the earth". The England cricket coach tells reporters, "You can't put words in my mouth." Daily Mirror fashion pages call Tilda Swinton "a law unto herself"...


Some interesting insights into some idiomatic phrases we now take for granted.
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Re: King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#2  Postby Animavore » Jan 18, 2011 10:44 am

Therefore: God :)


Good article. Dickens is simply wrong, though.
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Re: King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#3  Postby I'm With Stupid » Jan 18, 2011 10:47 am

Phrases still with us: Feet of clay Daniel 2:33


Yeah, I'm always using that one.

I dunno, I think Shakespeare could give it a run for its money. And Shakespeare's wasn't all plagirised from Jewish literature either.

Just a few of the more common ones:
A dish fit for the gods
A fool's paradise
A foregone conclusion
A plague on both your houses
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
A sea change
A sorry sight
All corners of the world
All's well that ends well
As cold as any stone
As dead as a doornail
As good luck would have it
As pure as the driven snow
At one fell swoop
It was Greek to me
Eaten out of house and home
Even at the turning of the tide
Fair play
Fancy free
Fight fire with fire
For ever and a day
Foul play
Good riddance
Green eyed monster
High time
Hoist by your own petard
Hot-blooded
A charmed life
I have not slept one wink
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
If music be the food of love, play on
In a pickle
In stitches
In the twinkling of an eye
Lie low
Love is blind
Make your hair stand on end
Milk of human kindness
More fool you
Much Ado about Nothing
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Night owl
Out of the jaws of death
Pound of flesh
Rhyme nor reason
Send him packing
Such stuff as dreams are made on
The Devil incarnate
The game is up
The Queen's English
There's method in my madness
This is the short and the long of it
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Up in arms
Vanish into thin air
We have seen better days
Wear your heart on your sleeve
What a piece of work is man
Wild goose chase
Woe is me

But what about this bit:

David Crystal in Begat, however, set out to counter exaggerated claims for the influence of the King James Bible. "I wanted to put a precise number on it," he explains, "because some people have said there are thousands of phrases from the King James Bible in our language, that it is the DNA of the English language. I found 257 examples."

More importantly, Crystal discovered that only a small minority of those phrases were original to the KJB, most of them being copied from earlier translators, above all William Tyndale.

"Only 18 of that total were unique to the King James Bible. It didn't originate these usages, it acted as a kind of conduit through which they became popular. Tyndale was the number one influence."

He also found that the Bible coined few new words. Shakespeare by comparison, introduced about 100 phrases into our idiom, to the Bible's 257, but something like 1,000 new words. The English Bible introduced only 40 or so, including "battering ram" and "backsliding".

"This reflects their different jobs," says Crystal. "The whole point of being a dramatist is to be original in your language. The Bible translators, in contrast, were under strict instructions not to be innovative but to look backwards to what earlier translators had done." Earlier translators whose only concern was to translate the Bible literally.
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Re: King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#4  Postby Amergin » Jan 18, 2011 11:07 am

I think it is partially justified to give the King James version due credit but please recognise this was also in the contemperaneaous context of Elizabethan and Jacobean culture when the English Language was in full bloom, Shakespeare Marlowe, Spencer etc.
I think the accusation of plagiarism is a bit harsh. It was a translation after all. Hardly plagiarism. Later versions including the New English Bible differ greatly fromm the KJV and lack the majesty of the King James Version. Some of the psalms and great pieces of Ecclesiastes are jewels to be saved.
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Re: King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#5  Postby ramseyoptom » Jan 18, 2011 7:56 pm

And the other book to add to that list again from the same era is The Book of Common Prayer, which probably add as many phrases as the KJV. But I suspect their influence went beyond the phrases they add but more how the language was used.

Listening to some of the prograames on BBC Radio 4 which were done recently on the history of the KJV they mentioned that as the translations were written they were read aloud, as though to a congregation. Only when the committee, and this is what I find fascinating is that it was devised by a committee, was satisfied with it both written and orally that it went into the final version.
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Re: King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#6  Postby Tim Danaher » Jan 20, 2011 10:21 pm

Interesting about Shakespeare: he may not necessarily have coined these himself; his audience at the Globe was basically working class, and he may have incorporated common idioms in order to connect with his audience. There was a BBC series about 25 years ago (Robert Burchfield? History of the English language?) where they were looking into these, and the presenter told a story about a philologist who was researching dialects, and who was talking to two hedgers in eastern England who were describing their work, and the one said: "well I rough-hews the ends, then I gives them to 'im, an' 'e shapes 'em."

"There is a destiny that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may." (Hamlet).
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Re: King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak

#7  Postby byofrcs » Jan 22, 2011 7:00 am

It was Tyndale who paved the way in introducing new words and phrases, including the phrase the "Salt of the Earth". The KJV is estimated to contain a majority of the content from Tyndale including these new phrases. The church did not like these new words.

The Authorised Version of the King James' Bible is still protected by perpetual crown copyright in the UK until 2039 even though it plagiarises in the majority a previous work by an author who was brutally murdered for that original work by the same people who benefit from the copyright.
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