Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NPR Reports on "How the King James Bible 'Begat' English Idioms"

A few weeks back NPR's Talk of the Nation featured a conversation with David Crystal regarding his recent book Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. In the book, Crystal set out to answer the question, "How many English language idioms come from the King James Bible?" The answer? Not as many as most people think.

"I found 257," says Crystal.

Of particular interest to me is Crystal's observation that many of the phrases that folks attribute to the KJV actually come from other English Bible versions of the period, such as the Great Bible and the Bishops' Bible. The KJV did not originate them; it merely kept them and passed them on:
So, truly, the King James Bible popularized the expressions that were already in biblical use. The King James version was appointed to be read in all churches, so "people started not just to quote these expressions, but to play with them — 'What hath Google wrought,' indeed."
This matter of the "perception" versus the "reality" of the cultural influence of the KJV is worth pondering, especially given the rampant mis-perception that the KJV was the first English translation of the Bible, or the first translation at all (or the first Bible, period).

I haven't had a chance to read Crystal's book yet, but I'll post a report up here when I do.

You can listen to the whole conversation here.

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