Hoo Boy!

No, that’s not my Word of the Day. It is my reaction to reading a discussion on some sort of Bible study site, UE Using English.com

It is a discussion site and the topic was supposedly the grammaticality of the expression from the Christian bible “the wages of sin is death”. I read in one of my books on the history of English that that reflects a change in syntax since the KJV days. I’ll have to look for the exact explanation. But you won’t find that among the bible study group where random speculation reigns supreme. Of course, some just exclaim the usual, “God said it so it is true.” Inquiring minds are not frequent on this discussion board. OTOH, some did make a stab at putting the phrase in its linguistic context and one person even pointed out that some of the commentators seem to think the bible was originally written in English.

My purpose in citing this discussion is to highlight the way most people address issues of grammar: it is all about “proper” and whatever pops into their head. It is what I call ratiocination, rolling a notion around in one’s head like a piece of candy in the mouth waiting for that little especially sweet lump to be reached by the tongue. At some point, some of these people hit upon what they think is a bright idea. Some of it is inventive but crazily inaccurate.

How could it not be? Only one or two commentators seem to realize that English has a history and the bible was translated at a particular time. One person pointed out that at the time the KJV was translated, the grammar of the translation was not archaic. That is perceptive in its way but not quite true as the translators tried for a slightly archaizing effect.

But overall it is clear that this is an evangelical group, more excited about their faith than about linguistic facts. Yet some of our finest linguists came out of bible translating societies, like Eugene Nida.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *