Today is the anniversary of the publication of what is without a doubt the most influential work in the history of the English language, the King James translation of the Old and New Testaments, completed in 1611. Of course, one might argue that it is not one work but 66 separate books (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament); nevertheless, the reading and proclaiming of the words from the King James Bible have made a significant impact on the words we speak today.
For example, take any letter of the alphabet and think of expressions we use in print and spoken word that came to us from the King James Authorized Version. Here are just a few examples from letter A:
Apple of one’s eye
A little lower than angels
All things are possible
All things work together for good
Alpha and omega
Am I my brother’s keeper?
A soft answer turneth away wrath
Ask, and it shall be given
For a more complete collection of words and phrases from the Bible, see Mene, Mene, Tekel (The handwriting is on the wall): A lively lexicon of words and phrases from the Bible (1).
In the second year of his reign, after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, King James I ordered a new English authorized translation of the Bible. It was a time of renaissance for the spoken and written word in English as witnessed by the works of William Shakespeare who was a contemporary of the men working on James’ translation. Over fifty scholars worked on the project, making it probably the most impressive work ever completed by a committee.
The King James Bible and the manner of speaking it influenced soon crossed the Atlantic to the New World, where in 1620 the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth to plant the seed of King James’ English in this new Promised Land.
The King James Bible was published the same year that Shakespeare began work on his last play The Tempest. In Shakespeare and the Authorized version of the Bible we have the Yin and the Yang of the English language. Shakespeare prodigiously invented words, metaphors, and turns of phrase; his works make up a vocabulary of approximately 30,000 words. In contrast, the King James Version uses a sparse 8,000 words, a basic lexicon that could be read, spoken, and understood by common men and women.
Today’s Challenge: Bard or Bible?
Read the common expressions below. Which come from the King James Bible and which are from Shakespeare’s plays?
1. Apple of one’s eye
2. Out of the mouth of babes
3. There's the rub
4. Fallen from grace
5. Lamb to the slaughter
6. It's Greek to me
7. Through a glass, darkly
8. To eat out of house and home
9. Tower of strength
10. Pearls before swine
11. Serve God and Mammon
12. Sings of the times
13. Too much of a good thing
14. Skin of the teeth
15. Fatted calf
16. Feet of clay
17. Giants in the earth
18. Gone with the wind
19. Every inch a kind
20. Turn the other cheek
21. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth
22. Den of lions
23. Cast the first stone
24. Paint the lily
25. Cruel to be kind
26. Blind leading the blind
27. Budge an inch
Quote of the Day: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. –Isaiah 40:31
KJV: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14,15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26
Shakespeare: 3, 6, 8, 9, 13, 19, 24, 25, 27
1 – Ehrlich, Eugene and David H Scott. Mene, Mene, Tekel: A lively lexicon of words and phrases from the Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.