Tag Archives: Bible

The fly in the ointment

23 Jan
Titlepage and dedication from a 1612-1613 King...

Image via Wikipedia

In October last year, I played the birthday card and persuaded my husband to give up his Friday night to accompany me to the ‘Warwick Words’ festival to see David Crystal talk on the King James Bible.

It was an evening of warmth, wit and insight – much like the many brilliant books David Crystal has written.   He’s a fantastic presenter, and even my husband, who has no particular interest in the English language or the King James Bible (the subject of the talk), thoroughly enjoyed the session.

In his talk, David debunked some of the myths around the King James Bible – that it is the ‘DNA’ of our English language.  The influence of the King James Bible, he argued, is not in the grammar, syntax, vocabulary or spelling of English.  Instead, he claims that where it is influential is in the use of idiom – ‘the fly in the ointment’, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’, ‘a man after my own heart’, a ‘two-edged sword’, ‘pearls before swine’ and many, many more.

Here’s a list of those idioms from phrases.org.uk

But as David went on to explain, there are surprisingly few idioms truly original to the King James Bible.  Many had actually appeared in earlier versions of the Bible, and I think (and I may have misremembered) that David counted only 18 idioms that could first be traced to the King James version.

There’s a great interview with David on icons.org.uk (and it’s great to see him on this site as he is one of my icons!)

David’s also written an article for the Oxford English Dictionary site on this topic.

Finally, here’s David’s book Begat on the King James Bible.  I haven’t read it – but if it’s like any of the many other books of his I have read, it’s bound to be a delight.