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Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language [Hardcover]

David Crystal
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Book Description

Oct. 27 2010 0199585857 978-0199585854
What do the following have in common? Let there be light - A fly in the ointment - A rod of iron - New wine in old bottles Lick the dust - How are the mighty fallen - Kick against the pricks - Wheels within wheels They are all in the King James Bible. This astonishing book "has contributed far more to English in the way of idiomatic or quasi-proverbial expressions than any other literary source." So wrote David Crystal in 2004. In A Book of Many Colours he returns to the subject notonly to consider how a work published in 1611 could have had such influence on the language, but how it can still do so when few regularly hear the Bible and fewer still hear it in the language of Stuart England. No other version of the Bible however popular (such as the Good News Bible) or imposed upon the church (like the New English Bible) has had anything like the same influence. David Crystal shows how its words and phrases have over the centuries found independent life in the work ofpoets, playwrights, novelists, politicians, and journalists, and how more recently they have been taken up with enthusiasm by advertisers, Hollywood, and hip-hop. Yet the King James Bible owes much to earlier English versions, notably those by John Wycliffe in in the fourteenth century and William Tyndale in the sixteenth. David Crystal reveals how much that is memorable in the King James Bible stems from its forebears. At the same time he shows how crucial were the revisions made by KingJames's team of translators and editors. "A person who professes to be a critic in the delicacies of the English language ought to have the Bible at his finger's ends," Lord Macaulay advised Lady Holland in 1831. A Book of Many Colours shows how true that remains. It will be a revelation to all who read it.

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"Its reach is impressive."--Washington Post

"Crystal does a great job of showing how the King James Bible played an essential role in 'begetting' the English language. Highly recommended."--Studies in Scripture

"Crystal is rightly known as a highly engaging author and one of the few linguists with a true talent for explaining highly abstract subject matter in a way that is comprehensible and enjoyable for a general readership...his approach is systematic and well chronicled."--Linguist List

About the Author

David Crystal is the world's best known linguist. He is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. His books include Linguistics, Language and Religion (1965), The Stories of English (Penguin, 2004) The Fight for English (OUP 2006), and Just a Phrase I'm Going Through: my Life in Language (Routledge 2009). He has written extensively on religious language, including 'Linguistics and Liturgy' for Church Quarterly in 1969 and 'Language in Church' for The Tablet in1985.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The King James Bible and the English Language April 13 2011
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
It's been 400 years since the King James Bible was published in 1611, and it is often referred to as a source of great influence on the English language. Consider these commonly used phrases: `A fly in the ointment', 'How are the mighty fallen', `Let there be light', `New wine in old bottles `, `The salt of the earth', and `The skin of one's teeth'. Each of these phrases owes its popularity to the King James Bible.

But is it true that no book has had a greater influence on the English language? To answer this question, David Crystal, a professor of linguistics, has sifted through the King James Bible and compared it to six earlier translations. While acknowledging that the King James Bible owes much to those earlier translations - especially those by Wycliffe (14th century) and Tyndale (16th century) there are also some key revisions. Consider the impact of `Am I my brother's keeper?' with Wycliffe's `Am I the keeper of my brother?'

English has changed in the past 400 years and while (most of us at least) no longer use the exact same language of the King James Bible, David Crystal has looked at idiom rather than quotation to demonstrate its influence. David Crystal has counted 257 phrases or words that are now idiomatic, and they are each listed and discussed in the book. While only 18 of these idioms take the exact form shown in the King James Bible, 7 exact forms come from other translations. Interestingly, in 37 cases the King James antecedent has been rewritten while in the other 196 cases, the form of words in the King James Bible is paralleled in an earlier translation: the majority (160) in the Geneva Bible of 1560. There's a marvellous 38 page table setting out the occurrence of David Crystal's 257 identified idioms in the different versions of the bible chosen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a fascinating read on its own as well as an excellent reference source for biblical quotes from six versions of the Bible; most are from The King James Bible's Old and New Testaments.

An example is the phrase "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" which derives from Exodus 21:24 --"Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the KJV has affect the English language Jan. 1 2011
By Randy A Brown - Published on
The King James Version is celebrating its 400th anniversary (1611-2011). In the past 400 years, the King James Version (KJV) has made a great impact on the English language. David Crystal, in his book Begat The King James Bible and the English Language, shows just how much the KJV has affected our language and gives many examples of words and phrases that are in our common in our daily speech.

I've read the KJV for many years and I was still amazed at how much of our language comes straight from the KJV. Crystal covers words and phrases such as "let there be light", "my brother's keeper", "two by two", "thou shalt not", "out of the mouth of babes", "heal thyself", "sowing seeds", "fly in the ointment", "seeing the light", "nothing new under the sun", "begat", and many, many more. Crystal discusses how these words and phrases have affected our modern usage of language and the impact they've had on developing the English language.

Crystal includes a comparison to other old English translations, which in itself is a fine comparative study. He further notes the importance and contributions of translators such as Wycliffe and Tyndale, among others.
Crystal does a great job of showing how the King James Bible played an essential role in `begetting' the English language. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank Oxford University Press for this free review copy. I was not required to give a positive review. My opinions are my own.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What a disappointment!! May 21 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read several books by David Crystal and have enjoyed them all. So I was looking forward to this one. What a disappointment!! It looks like he made a list of sentences and phrases from the KJB and had some grad student do a bunch of Google searches on them. Most of the book has no analysis or insights at all, just a list of websites, newspaper articles, etc. where the sentence/phrase was found.

While there are a some insightful remarks scattered here and there, if you really want to learn about the impact the KJB has had on the English language or English literature, I would read one of the many other, well-researched books on the subject.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Idiomatically Influential? Dec 31 2010
By R. Hardy - Published on
It is not surprising that people attribute special strengths to their nations, or their sports teams, or their religious texts. I have heard it seriously proposed, for instance, that the Bible gives us more evidence for the existence of Jesus than we have for the existence of George Washington, or that at any given time more people are reading the Bible from cover to cover to the exclusion of all else than are reading all the current bestsellers. Here's another one: No other book has influenced the English language more than has the King James Version of the Bible. Many people, and not just religious people, but writers and even linguists think this to be true. But is it true? Can the question be answered in a reasonable way that does not lean on mere enthusiasm from the book's adherents? David Crystal, a professor of linguistics and one who has written before about English within religion, thinks the question is good enough to merit the comprehensive attempt which he details in _Begat: The King James Bible & the English Language_ (Oxford University Press). We don't talk or write the way the compilers of that great translation did when it came out in 1611, so it might seem that its influence is small, and a full comparison of current prose to that of the KJV presents too many complications to contemplate. But Crystal has looked at idioms, not quotations but quasi-proverbial expressions that have become commonplace outside of religious tradition. How many there are would indicate, especially compared to other sources, how influential the KJV has been, and Crystal has counted them up. It's an exercise fraught with subjectivity; the notion of "influence" is difficult to evaluate. But by the idiom standard, with some caveats, the Bible is at the top, but the KJV isn't the one reason this is so.

It is fun to see these idioms together and realize how important they are as bricks in our constructions of thought. It reminded me of the joke about the person who goes to see Hamlet for the first time and is disappointed - "It's full of quotations everyone's heard before." In the way people have of playing with language, they are turned into puns or tweaked to make catchy headlines; indeed, Crystal uses the degree of such wordplay as a way of evaluating whether a phrase has become an idiom or not. There is "scapegoat" which comes from Leviticus, and is one of the very few genuinely Biblical words to enter English. It was so familiar a word in the century after the KJV's introduction that people were playing with it, inventing the "scape-horse" and "scape-rat." We still tinker: "scapegoatism" first showed up in 1961. "What hath God wrought" is straight from Numbers, but it is interesting that this expression was not used in anything but a strict religious way until Samuel Morse used it as a test message in 1844. Now you can find "What hath Google wrought" or "What hath Russia wrought" or plenty of others. People have changed it from the Bible's emphasis; "wrought" is a variant of "work," and means in the verse "create." But maybe because of an association with "wreak" (and the phrase that features it, "wreak havoc"), those that have "wrought" nowadays have done something negative; an article headed "What Bush Hath Wrought," for instance, is not sympathetic to the president. "Holier than thou" also seems not to have been used in a non-religious form until sometime in the twentieth century with the meaning "hypocritically pious." Crystal has turned up modern changes rung on the phrase, like "geekier than thou" or a food quiz called "Holier than chow." The poignant verse from John, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," has been abridged to "No greater love" on memorials, and is the title of books and films. The sentiment might seem to be one that would not repay kidding, but "Greater love hath no fan" said a boasting _Star Wars_ geek. (Crystal does not mention the best pun from the line, in _Ulysses_ made by Stephen among the partying boisterous students making bawdy talk: "Greater love than this, he said, no man hath that a man lay down his wife for his friend.")

So, how does it total up? The magic number is 257. That is, Crystal has counted 257 phrases or words that are now idiomatic. He admits that classifying them so is to some extent subjective, and that other people would total other numbers, but that they will not vary far from his own count. Those who say there are thousands are just wrong. He has tabulated these idioms and broken them down, showing how few of them take the exact form found in the KJV (18), or how many times the KJV isn't original but picked up a prior translation (like the Tyndale, Geneva, or Wycliffe), and so on. 257 isn't bad, when you consider that Shakespeare by the same criteria scores about 100. Along the way Crystal has interesting remarks about the _lack_ of influence of the KJV. There is no accounting for why we know about "pearls before swine," but we are far less familiar with the proverb, "As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion." The fashion of lexical repetition did not last; an editor would never let through, from Exodus, "Every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the Lord." Crystal seems an indefatigable researcher (his dependence upon Google is credited), but he has a light touch and jokes about looking for examples of "nothing new under the sun" that "... it's the name of an episode of _Baywatch_ (1995) whose significance I did not have the energy to research." We are coming up on the 400th anniversary of the KJV, and there are sure to be celebrations, but this one is unique. Crystal has offered an interesting way to increase our understanding of the influence of a brilliant original.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A list of popular bible references Jan. 1 2012
By dunkmack - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
How disappointing. I was looking forward to a history of how certain phrases were crafted in the Bible, but instead the book is a list of where the phrases pop up in popular culture, with very little discussion of origins.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No spirituality collection should be without this! Jan. 21 2011
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Begat: The King James Bible & the English Language offers a powerful pick on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, showing how the book's words and phrases appeared in the works of influential writers and politicians over the centuries right up to modern times. Chapters describe the origins and uses of over 650 commonly used expressions from the King James Bible and offer detailed insights into the revisions made by its translators. No spirituality collection should be without this!
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