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Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language Hardcover – Oct 27 2010
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"Eclectic yet entertaining reading.... Readers can dip into the book anywhere and discover humorous and bizarre uses of biblical idioms alongside predictably sober and pious usages."--Publishers Weekly
"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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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