King James Bible: How it changed the way we speak
The impact of the King James Bible, which was published 400 years ago, is still being felt in the way we speak and write, says Stephen Tomkins.
No other book, or indeed any piece of culture, seems to have influenced the English language as much as the King James Bible. Its turns of phrase have permeated the everyday language of English speakers, whether or not they've ever opened a copy.
And while a 2009 survey by Durham University found that only 38% of us know the parable of prodigal son, a recent book by the linguist David Crystal, appropriately called Begat: The King James Bible and the English language, counts 257 phrases from the King James Bible in contemporary English idiom.
Readers absorbed its language both directly and through other reading. Tennyson considered Bible reading "an education in itself", while Dickens called the New Testament "the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world."
The US statesman Daniel Webster said: "If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures." Equally celebrated as a British orator, TB Macaulay said that the translation demonstrated "the whole extent of [the] beauty and power" of the English language.
Why has its influence been so marked? Alister McGrath, professor of theology, ministry and education at King's College, London, is the author of In the Beginning: the Story of the King James Bible and how it changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture.
He points to several reasons. The Bible was "a very public text", he says. "It would have been read aloud in churches very, very extensively, which would have imprinted it on people's minds."
Then, going back to the likes of Dickens and Webster, there's the way influential people mediated and amplified the effect.