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‘Shakespeare or Scripture?’

Good Morning. Take a listen to these expressions:
‘Wild goose chase’?
‘Wear your heart on your sleeve’?
‘Mum’s the word’?

Are they Shakespeare… or are they Scripture?

What about: ‘By the skin of your teeth’? ‘Fight the good fight’? Or ‘Eat drink and be merry’?

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Only five years ago we marked four centuries of the King James Version of the Bible.

No other literary sources give us more of our everyday phrases and sayings. We may think we know little of either but they speak through us daily.

Language is viral, quietly travelling centuries. Sticky expressions & turns of phrase glue themselves into our conversation. Tripping off our tongue before we’ve even noticed.

‘So…’ is a current example. When did someone decide that the word ‘So’ must preface our response to a question.

And it turns out that everyone has adopted the phrase ‘it turns out’ – a recent verbal tic for explaining a twist in the tale you’re telling.

Yesterday I enquired of a twentysomething in our house about the expression ‘bae’ – spelt BAE – which, it turns out, has nothing to do with British Aerospace – it’s short for babe.

Maybe you’ll notice it, now I’ve mentioned it. Soz – as…we… now say.

As communication migrates online, the acronym flexes its upper case muscles. DIY, RSVP & AWOL are eclipsed by LOL, OMG & GPWM.
That last is Good Point Well Made – BTW – By The Way.

Doubtless, many of these will bite the dust in the twinkling of an eye. They carry all the stickability of the Cockney translation of the Bible where Jesus miraculously feeds ‘five thousand geezers’ with ‘five loaves of Uncle Fred and two Lillian Gish’.

Purists can find the use and abuse of language a thorn in the flesh. They’d prefer that the original – Shakespeare or Scripture – was set in stone.

But language won’t be trapped, that’s how it survives.

And the Bible will always be one of those places we come from – even if we can’t remember being there. Every time we suffer from a broken heart or reluctantly concede that someone we trusted is a leopard who cannot change his spots.

Yes, some phrases no longer mean what they once did… but they stick around because they ring true. Sometimes truth trumps accuracy.

The great Jewish novelist, Elie Wiesel, could have been talking about Shakespeare or about the parables of Jesus when he said, ‘Some stories are true that never happened’.

And some words remain true, even as their meaning evolves. ‘The grass withers, and the flower falls,’ reads the Bible. ‘But the word of the Lord endures.’

And the word of William Shakespeare too.

(Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Saturday April 9th, 2016)