Many years ago I began to be interested in the English language. I was lucky to read David Crystal’s book that had simply the name “The English Language”. It was very interesting and, regardless it was written for a a layman, strictly scientific and, besides that, amusing. The book was printed in 1988. The book was embracing all the aspects of the English language and its history. Many years later, in 2010, Crystal focuses on King James bible in his book “Begat. The King James Bible & the English language”. As many of you know, this bible is the cornerstone of all bibles written in English.

The King James Bible was by no means the first bible in England. It was preceded by a bible in Henry VIII's time (1535), so called Bishops’ Bible in 1604. However, the language and the expressions used in those bibles did not appeal the majority. So, the job had to be done again. During the reign of King James a new translation was finished in seven years between    1604 and 1611. The work provided employment for 47 scholars. Because of William Caxton had brought the skill of printing books to England in 1495, the King James Bible was printed. (By the way, first book printed in England and in English was History of Troy – no less no more - containing very useful lessons for the society - avoid trojan horses.)

Crystal takes the trouble to read through the Bible and searches expressions that have been alive until today. At the same time he compares expressions with contemporary bible translations. Crystal decision is that in KJB the expressions are more in rhyme and words contains some grandeur than in its  contemporaries. (The other bibles are Wycliff, Tyndale, Geneva, Bishops, and Douai-Rheims bibles.)

Lets go first in the Old testament and in a very well known story of Cain and Abel. Cain commits fratricide and kills his brother Abel. The Lord comes and asks where is Abel. Cain answers (somewhat cheeky) “Am I my brother’s keeper”. Wycliff differs slightly: there we read the expression “whether I’m keeper of my brother?” (In Finnish: “En tiedä, olenko minä veljeni vartija?”. this tranlation is a little bit off off the line: “Vartija” means “guard”  whereas the original is nearer the word “paimen” = “shepherd”.) Crystal points out how clumsy the rhythm of the expression is in Wycliff compared with KJB.

Crystal finds thousands of references of this expression. According to Crystal, it was used in films and as a tile of a film from 1948. Crystal: “At least another three films have been called  ‘My Brother’s keeper’”. Crystal continues: “Moving from films, it’s the title of two songs, and two record albums. It’s the name of a popular piece of software for organizing information about your family history. It’s the title of several books including two novels, a Star Trek spin-off, and few nonfictional accounts of family relationships – one of which was Dakin Williams’ biography of his famous brother called His Brother’s Keeper: the life and murder of Tennessee Williams, Perhaps as far as you can get from traditional biblical connotations, an American hardcore punk rock band called itself Brother’s Keepers.” (p.25)

Crystal goes through every chapter in Old Testament and finds many similar cases that are opened for the reader similarly. Then he moves on to New Testament. In Matthew 16:3we can read “O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”. (Wycliffe has it different: “the tokens of times”). According to Crystal this expression is used widely in several religious publications “but its present-day use is predominantly secular usually heard as an everyday comment, mildly pejorative in character, about changes taking place in society.” Crystal gives examples: “Many words rhyme with sign – a fact which has not gone unnoticed by the copywriters wanting to catch a reader’s eye. Here’s a small selection, each with a brief contextual gloss:

wines of the times (the latest vintages)

whine of the times (a newspaper column)

whine of the times (a new hair-product; also a new LED indicator light)

spine of the times (the latest treatment back pain)

wine of the times (on the wine flu virus)

… and, favorite for any linguist:

Strine of the times (changes in Australian English, strain is a coined word from 50's describing the borad pronunciation of English in Australia.

(IP’s remark. One thing that is not expressed by Crystal is changes in language. Of course Chrystal knows this, however, he reads 500 years old texts from today’s point of view. We have not a slightest idea, how the texts were grasped in that time. I’ll take one example (in Finnish). Almost at the same time with KJB, first bible in Finnish was published in 1548. The author was Mikael Agricola. Even the Tile of the New Testament sounds now a little bit odd: “Se Wsi Testamenti”. Text above from Matthew is written by Agricola as follows. “16:3: ”Tenepene tule coua ilma/ Sille että Taiuas ruskotta/ ia on pytere. Te wlcocullatut/ Te taidhat Taiuan moodhon domita/ Ettekö te taidha mös tämen aigan merkie domita?”  460 years later we read: ”Ja aamulla: ”Tänään tulee ruma ilma, sillä taivas on synkän ruskottava.’ Taivasta te kyllä osaatte lukea, mutta ette aikojen merkkejä.” [ip: pytere = pimeä])