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.

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F is for a sharing species

 We are a funny old species really, in our dealings with the animal kingdom.  We are not always nice to the others who share our world but, when we are, we can go to crazy extremes. There are other species that will harness another species to work for them, ants and aphids spring to mind – but the extent in which we people have done so, is truly staggering.  As a species we are prepared to ask for help from anything and anyone.  We can project our minds beyond the obvious to the frankly ludicrous.

Dogs to hunt with us? Yes, okay makes sense, dogs to warn us of danger? Yup, that’s good also, dogs to lead the blind, sniff out drugs, find hidden avalanche victims, pull sleds, come on! And what brilliant persuasive powers we must have.  Do all this for us and we will feed you, when we choose; we will house you, how we choose; and we will pet you if we choose – that’s a good deal for giving up freedom?

 The same with horses, cattle, camels on and on we harness their abilities to ours and so make ourselves a super species!  It is this ability to seek out, request or harness another’s skills and talents to enhance our own that has helped drive humanity ever forward.

 As well as this demand for their skills we are also unusual among the animal kingdom as to our wish to share our lives with other species.  We invite them to sit down with us, and have lived in close proximity with them for many thousands of years.

 We do this with our own kind as well; knowledge has been shared, passed along and handed down, constantly.  We are not just social beings, but also, sharing beings.

 Where once, thousands of years ago, there were small communities of sharing and harnessing, which evolved into towns and cities of such,  now we sit astride the world and still, we social animals, harness, ask for, receive and share.

for the main post on fur, feathers and a side order of fish in the a-z challenge

The Value Of Reading

I have been an avid reader of words for forever it seems.  I read!  For 6 decades this was how I defined myself.  Then I also became a writer of words. I stopped defining myself years ago, but words on a printed page (I do e-books now also) are still the great love and joy of my life.

Over the past few months I have followed a few discussions in cyber space about the merits of reading.  Many of the readers commenting said they could not understand how people can’t or won’t read.  Well I find it difficult to understand also, I know the loneliness of not having books to read, however I am well aware I am not everyone.  Some of the comments suggested that not wishing to read somehow indicates a lower intelligence, less learning and a lower imaginative life.  That somehow reading books indicates the contrary.  On these last points I disagree.

I haven’t, I admit, given much thought before to the question. Some of my friends read a great deal, some don’t – it is just so.  I know it would be a clever person indeed to decide which the reader was and which not by the general tone of their conversation.

Surely nowadays there is not the necessity to read to keep up to date with life. As to whether there is more intelligence gained from reading, or whether love of reading is caused by greater intelligence, these are ideas and thoughts which wipe out the collective intelligence of a great part of the globe and are I feel  condescending.

One of the recurring comments in the discussions was that people choosing not to read, (on the whole the conversations were about fiction books) would be slumped in front of TV screens receiving stories, knowledge passively.  Not engaged as a reader is.  Surely not?  Is a drama – grand or soap – on the screen not as engaging for the viewer as the written word for the reader?  Do viewers not cry, yell and cheer? Maybe throw things – I don’t know.

Reading is a relatively new skill in our history.  Most of our ‘imaginative’ storytelling was a listening, watching, communal experience, from way back. Around a fire or in a theatre, now on the ‘box’ it is how millions have had and will have their imaginations fired.

Passive? No, no, observe the child being ‘read to’, consider the face, the movements, excitement, dread, laughter. Engaged or what? Watch any theatre audience, maybe they sit, so do readers, but they are engaged with others in a way us book-a-holics are not.  We are wrapped in an isolated world of our own.

Does it matter that people do not wish to read books; it matters of course in our society that they can read. Not to understand the written word can be a handicap in many mundane ways, understanding instructions, filling in forms and having a choice.  The choice of whether to read a novel or not. Reading for knowledge? Well yes, if one enjoys the experience, but such a great deal of our world is visual and aural and has always been, we can discover in other ways.

One of the best informed men I ever met, especially on fungi, Shakespeare and the great British poets was a ‘lowly’ porter back in the 70s who could barely sign his name.  We had endlessly fascinating discussions – I was fresh from English Lit. A level exams and knew it all. Well maybe not!!  All over the world, on my travels, I met wise and intelligent people who had never been taught to read but who had absorbed knowledge and information like sponges.

Is ‘reading’ a story more worthy than ‘watching’ a drama on TV or at the theatre? Story telling whether from between the pages of a book or as a community experience is where the extraordinary can be placed into perspective, a name given to  untold fears and anxieties – where we can wrap a protective cocoon against LIFE and all its uncertainties.  Which is why it is that books and indeed every form of storytelling disappoint, even anger, when the ending is not at least hopeful, if it can’t be happy.  A bad ending spoils the illusion that we can control life events

Is a novel an extra bonus in life, for some of us, a choice we relish? Or is there something about pinning words to paper and encasing it in a cabinet of cardboard that makes a book special – makes the story within a more worthwhile product than the looser form on our screens, on our stages? Or is it indeed merely another way to escape?