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Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language Hardcover – 23 Sep 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (23 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199585857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199585854
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 2.3 x 14.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 259,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

David Crystal works from his home in Holyhead, North Wales, as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster. He published the first of his 100 or so books in 1964, and became known chiefly for his research work in English language studies. He held a chair at the University of Reading for 10 years, and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor.

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Review

rich in fascinating details which give us an unprecedented picture of the extent to which the King James Bible has influenced the English language ... Every language learner will be delighted by the amount of interesting information found in Begat (Sanka Gilgoric, Babel)

Crystal's volume is entertaining and informative. (BBC History Magazine)

Wonderful book. (The Guardian)

Entertaining. (Christopher Howse, Daily Telegraph)

a book which has insights and delights on every page. (David Norton, Scottish Journal of Theology)

About the Author

David Crystal is the world's best known linguist. He is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. His books include Linguistics, Language and Religion (1965), The Stories of English (Penguin, 2004) The Fight for English (OUP 2006), and Just a Phrase I'm Going Through: my Life in Language (Routledge 2009). He has written extensively on religious language, including 'Linguistics and Liturgy' for Church Quarterly in 1969 and 'Language in Church' for The Tablet in 1985.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith on 14 April 2011
Format: Hardcover
It's been 400 years since the King James Bible was published in 1611, and it is often referred to as a source of great influence on the English language. Consider these commonly used phrases: `A fly in the ointment', 'How are the mighty fallen', `Let there be light', `New wine in old bottles `, `The salt of the earth', and `The skin of one's teeth'. Each of these phrases owes its popularity to the King James Bible.

But is it true that no book has had a greater influence on the English language? To answer this question, David Crystal, a professor of linguistics, has sifted through the King James Bible and compared it to six earlier translations. While acknowledging that the King James Bible owes much to those earlier translations - especially those by Wycliffe (14th century) and Tyndale (16th century) there are also some key revisions. Consider the impact of `Am I my brother's keeper?' with Wycliffe's `Am I the keeper of my brother?'

English has changed in the past 400 years and while (most of us at least) no longer use the exact same language of the King James Bible, David Crystal has looked at idiom rather than quotation to demonstrate its influence. David Crystal has counted 257 phrases or words that are now idiomatic, and they are each listed and discussed in the book. While only 18 of these idioms take the exact form shown in the King James Bible, 7 exact forms come from other translations. Interestingly, in 37 cases the King James antecedent has been rewritten while in the other 196 cases, the form of words in the King James Bible is paralleled in an earlier translation: the majority (160) in the Geneva Bible of 1560. There's a marvellous 38 page table setting out the occurrence of David Crystal's 257 identified idioms in the different versions of the bible chosen.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. Meadows on 18 April 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having never read any of other Crystal's works, I came to this with a fairly fresh pair of eyes. As other reviewers have noted, the book is broken down into tiny, bitesize chapters, making it a great coffee table book that can be dipped into. There is no running narrative, so it doesn't matter where you choose to start from (so long as you've read the introduction first).

Now I must confess to reading this from a certain angle; I'm a Christian, and have always been interested in the accuracy of translations of the Bible, as well as the history of how the collection of books (because it is not very accurate to refer to the compendium as a single book) was compiled. Now Crystal is not a theologian, so there is no real analysis comparing the KJV to such sources and the Masoretic Scripts or the Septuagint or any particular comment on what is a 'good' translation. Instead, what we have are numerous examples of how phrases found in the KJV have found their way into the English vernacular, as well as possible reasons for why they have stuck.

Crystal's hypothesis is that the dominant factor is rhythm, and this is noted by looking at some earlier English translations of the Bible (which were banned by the catholic church) such as Wycliffe where the wording differed slightly and seeing which version caught on. The style of the book is quite repetitive, which could make for a dull reading if going through it cover to cover. Rather, I preferred to dip into it and just do a couple of chapters a day, intermittent with other reading.

That said, I did enjoy it a lot and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the English language. Crystal's sources are very broad and include numerous references to online blogs.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Matt on 3 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Anybody familiar with Professor Crystal's impressive literary output so far - particularly 'The Stories of English' - may, like me, be surprised and wholly disappointed by this offering. Having struggled to finish this volume as an 'end to end' read, one can only recommend it as a coffee-table book designed to occupy idle moments of the day.

My criticism? The sheer repetition that lies herein. Each paragraph is formulaic to the point of tedium: firstly, an explanation of the original context of a particular biblical expression, secondly, its distortion over time and transmission into common usage, and finally how the expression has been punned on by various journalists, authors and writers of late. Two or three chapters of this stuff is revealing and light-hearted enough, admittedly, but after forty-two chapters one is left distinctly underwhelmed by the sheer weight of superficial trivia presented. The examples of how biblical phrases have been manipulated to give modern-day comic affect are particularly lame. Is anybody really interested in a never-ending catalogue of some of tabloid journalism's most cringe-worthy biblical puns? Certainly not this reader.

Sadly one gains the feeling that Crystal was bullied into writing this book by his editors at Oxford University Press, revealed by his somewhat pedestrian research technique. This seems to have been based largely on browsing the KJB for familiar English idioms and biblical phrases still in common currency and then simply entering these into Google. This is surely unworthy of a writer so academically rigorous and successful at revealing the fascinating history and nuances of the English language in his other works.
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