Eat, Drink & Be Merry for tomorrow . . .


From the beginning the chance of quotations and expressions coming down to us, over 400 years from the Bible, relied not so much on the repetition of such,after all although the King James version was read out in church every week and everyone attended church back then it would still have taken many attendances for all these hundreds of words to become part of the language. Mostly those that caught on had a certain rhythm which suited the language, a snappiness which summed up people’s thoughts and life. Or the possibility of playfulness. Obviously there are the straight forward words and expressions which are used in the same religious context that they were intended and as such do not ‘influence ‘ the language.

It is not the quoting of the words per se, but the uses with which the words have been put to over the years. The fact of the everyday-ness of expressions.

Eat drink and be merry;for tomorrow we die – Isaiah 22:13

These words are reinforced in the New Testament, Luke 12:19 in the parable of the rich man and also in the parable of the prodigal son ‘let us eat and be merry’

All the versions of the Bible appear to have similar wording but

the Douay Rheims has ‘make good cheer’
Wycliffe ‘make feast’

That which has come through centuries is a mix of Isaiah and Luke.

The second part does not appear as part of the first in Ecclesiastes, and so appears to be condoning the hedonistic way of life, it isn’t, it is emphasising the brevity of this earthly life. On the other occasions when mentioned it is definitely condemning .

It is a phrase much liked by the advertising sector and headline creators by those who know their eating/drinking habits are doubtful in the health stakes but who want to shrug their shoulders and take a gamble.

Frequently one half is separated and used in food/drink related advertising – many people use this first part in laziness with the assumption of knowledge of the second. Put the expression into search engines and there are pages and pages relating not only to the origin of it but the uses of the words now

Another expression which is embedded into our national language is

‘Fly in the ointment’ supposed to originate in Ecclesiastes.

Nowhere though, are these exact words quoted, in any version of bible not even the King James.However, The King James version is the one which has the closest association of the word fly to the word ointment

‘Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour:….’

Douay Rheims has ‘Dying flies spoil the sweetness of the ointment.’
And the
Geneva version has ‘Dead flies cause to stink and putrefy the ointment of the apothecary.’

Ointment in olden times was closely connected with religious practice and ceremony it’s origins lie in the Latin term for ‘anoint’. Therefore there is a holiness about it; ointment is precious, it was also, back then, expensive

Flies on the other hand are associated with rotting and putrefaction so one didn’t want any link between corruption and holiness. Not only were flies linked to corruption but because of this it was assumed and believed that the devil used them to hide in. Flies were definitely not desired as the ointment would be spoiled and wasted, to no avail.One can imagine a preacher thundering out that message in church. Nowadays ointment is usually associated with medicine and beauty.

There is a common theme in English idioms, a rhythm, an ease in the speaking, if you like, using ‘in’-

Such as

bats in the belfry
A bee in the bonnet

They slip easily and unconsciously from our lips. The original wording of the King James version was close enough to this pattern to be absorbed and changed over the centuries into what we have today.The meaning that came up through the ages has been, over the centuries, diminished, eroded, from the awful import of the original to a mere –

major obstacle preventing something that could have been pleasant

or even a more benign,

‘glitch’ in one’s plans.

If one is interested in these things then Begat by David Crystal is a splendid book to read.
Also The Good Samaritan Bites the Dust by Ferdie Addis
And Scapegoats, Shambles & Shibboleths by Martin Manser

Why the Reading Snobbery:Writer’s Quote Wednesday

In debates about the value of reading and books I have often had discussions, even arguments about the subject of the choice of reading matter. The argument against me runs something like this

Some books have more value than others.

Some writing is superior to others.
Classics are better than pot boilers.
Books are better than comics.
If one is going to read it should be a worthy book.

These are not discussions about those books which incite hatred or evil deeds. Nor about those text books which knowingly feed the reader false or even dangerous information. And books which come under censorship is a whole different discussion. These are discussions about reading for pleasure,for escapism.

Now there are many books I dislike, wouldn’t give house room to or do nothing for me. This is not because they are bad books but because I personally don’t care for them.

S0, why is it considered ‘good’ reading to tuck oneself up with a classic but people are made to feel slightly apologetic to do the same with a bodice ripper romance.

Why should one genre be deemed superior to another.

Why the reading snobbery?

It is good to read – in my opinion. The skill of reading enables people to navigate this literate world more easily.

It is good to read for escapism or pleasure if one wishes too. The written word can open up horizons, show alternative worlds and lifestyle. Can inform and entertain. One need never be alone if one can read. However, it is the act of reading which is good.

I am not renowned for my fashion sense, never have been – well maybe I tried back in the 60s! I dress in whatever I feel comfortable with. I extend that to life in general and so tend to read whatever I feel comfortable with, I do have a fairly catholic taste so it’s a  very  wide comfort net – occasionally I will embark on a reading challenge that leads me away from that comfort, just to ‘challenge’ me, or in the book groups I belong to I will be required to read books that I don’t normally read, and have discovered new authors and genres to add to my preferences.But this is me, I’m a bookworm an addict if you like. Others like my sister has a genre or two  at most which they feel most comfortable with, that is her.  we both gain immense enjoyment  from our different tastes.

I have read so many different types and styles of books since I first spelt out words on a Cornflake packet. Many are forgotten but more have enriched my life in some way or other.

When children learn to read the sense of magic is all around, squiggles on paper have meanings.

Adults can guide and encourage of course; but if the children are comfortable pouring over a comic what is wrong? the words are there, they are enjoying and learning at the same time.

If as they grow older they only want spies or romance, what is wrong?
If they only want erudite and mostly incomprehensible tombs (to many of us anyway) what is wrong?
Why should any of us have to read what we dislike. Schools and colleges are a different matter sometimes if we wish to learn we need to read away from our blanky:)

We should not judge others by what we read, we should applaud the fact that we can read, have access to a wider world, have a chance to live out our hopes, dreams, terrors and fears within the safety of those pages.

Each to their own.

sam johnson

This quote is part of Silver Threading’s  Writer’s Quote series. Writer’s who have helped inspire my writing.

To write one must engage with the world around. Imagination is not the everything, imagination needs feeding with experience and observation. Life is what feeds writers.



A Committee’s Sublime Creation?

wordsThis is a blog about words, the English language. I may at times, such as here, annoy or offend, this is not my purpose and I apologize if I do so.

All my childhood I dipped in and out of the bible. Attending a Church of England primary school and then a Roman Catholic secondary school, throwing in Sunday school as well, it was a given that I was going to end up knowing huge quantities of those books. Back then the version most commonly used in the Church of England was the King James version. The Douay in the Roman Catholic school. I found the slightly archaic language of the King James with its rhythms and cadences exhilarating, exciting and beautiful. If I didn’t understand, and of course such old English can be difficult at times

a) there was always someone who could further translate and elucidate and
b) the sound of the words could envelop and stir the senses as can music . Knowledge is not always necessary.

I am not sure why people like to produce versions of plain English bible why the richness and beauty and sheer grandeur is considered so bad, as a child I didn’t understand it all but over time I did. Language is after all one of the glories of humanity. Anyway I am in no position to judge because of a whole childhood of religion and years of traveling to other cultures and nations I have ended up with no religion at all. I also have not read all the other newer versions. It is, I believe, a question of personal taste.

I do still think the King James Bible is one of the ‘great classics’ of the English language

King James was the ‘authorised bible’ it was written in the 1600s, not by any one individual but by ‘committee!’ who would have thought a committee could create something so sublime:) under James 1 instruction; with the requirement to ‘to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principall good one’

The’ good one’ was the Bishops’ Bible of 1568(1602 edition), and the many included, other earlier versions such as Tyndale’s 1530, Wycliffe’s 1388, the Geneva 1560 and the Douay-Rheims 1582-1609, there were many others. The bible after centuries of being a closed book known only to Latin speakers had been translated into the common tongue many times over the centuries before. So not all the language originated from that team of worthy men. Working on the principle if it was good keep it, tweak if it needed, create when all else failed they pulled together a wonderful celebration of words. Words which inspired poets, politicians, singers, authors, ad men and newspaper magnets as well bringing the ‘Word’ to ordinary people who found them equally inspiring.

Our language now is richly seamed with expressions from this bible, even those who like me have no faith and those who worship in another faith system. Many do not even know they quote from the Bible, or play around with the words in adverts and headlines that originate from the book.

Many make extravagant claims for the authorised version, I am not keen on extravagance! However I do agree The King James Bible has influenced our language a great deal. Not the nuts and bolts such as grammar and spelling but in the idiomatic sense, in the concepts a phrase can conjure up. When written works,songs, adverts and headlines can be titled by expressions or words from a book written 400 years ago then I think it is fairly safe a statement to make.

Up here in cyberspace I have come across those with an everyday knowledge of the bible – not necessarily my King James version and those who have a disconnect between the expressions they use and the origins of those expressions. It is a shame in a way but also a sign that the words and expressions have as with so much of our language grown their own wings and flown.

I want to pull up a few of the most common words and expressions over the next few weeks, with their original and their modern versions and uses. It’s just an excuse for me to re-visit a book I enjoy so much:) To try maybe to explain in modern style usage why their appeal has lasted so long.