Begat: The King James Bible And The English Language
By David Crystal, Hardcover, 320 pages
Oxford University Press, USA, List price: $24.95
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.”