Blog Excerpts

The Idioms that the King James Bible Begat

"Let there be light." "A fly in the ointment." "New wine in old bottles." "My brother's keeper." All of these familiar expressions entered English through the King James version of the Bible, which is about to turn 400 years old. In his new book Begat, David Crystal traces how, more than any other literary source in history, the King James Bible contributed to the stock of English idioms and proverbs.

Crystal was recently featured in a fascinating interview on the National Public Radio show "Talk of the Nation":

In Begat, David Crystal sets out to prove that the King James Bible has contributed more to the English language than any other literary source.

If you've ever "fought the good fight" or chuckled at "what comes out of the mouths of babes," you just might agree with him.

Phrases with roots in the King James Bible are everywhere. Crystal tells NPR's Neal Conan that writing Begat began with his curiosity about a simple question: How many English language idioms come from the King James Bible? When Crystal posed this question to people, they guessed a wide range of answers — anywhere from 50 to 1,000. So he decided he'd better read the Bible and figure it out.

"I went through it and looked for every instance of an expression that I thought was current in modern English," Crystal says. "And then I thought: I'd better read it again, just to make sure I haven't missed any." And after that second reading, he had a figure.

"I found 257," Crystal reports. He acknowledges that there's "no magic in that figure" and that someone else could read through the Bible and come up with a different number entirely. Still, he thinks that 257 is about right. And "it makes the point that it isn't as high a figure as some people expect. On the other hand, it's twice the number that Shakespeare introduced, so it's not doing badly."

You can listen to the interview with Crystal and read an excerpt from the book here.

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Comments from our users:

Friday December 31st 2010, 12:29 AM
Comment by: paul B. (jackson, MS)
What a wonderful idea for a book! Can't wait to read it.
Sunday January 2nd 2011, 8:11 AM
Comment by: nannywoo is back (Wilmington, NC)Top 10 Speller
Bought the book after reading this. Thanks!
Tuesday January 18th 2011, 12:29 AM
Comment by: Dr. Susannah (Al Salaam Kuwait)
I always enjoy the surprise of people (especially in certain contexts) when I point out that the phrase or pithy saying so recently employed comes straight from the KJV.
Tuesday January 3rd 2012, 4:21 AM
Comment by: Venkateswar Rao Y.
Amazing to find there are 257 idioms introduced by KJV.You could have a few important idioms out of this 257.

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