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

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