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Here endeth the lesson

Writers striving for effect will sometimes attempt to mimic the language of the Authorized Version of the Bible — King James English. This is usually a mistake.

In the first place, writing, say, the Ten Commandments of anything is almost as hackneyed a device as opening an article with "Webster’s defines. …" And tricking out some mundane event with the cadences of the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer is like wearing spats with sneakers. The incongruity is glaring.

But, and this is the main thing, the writer invariably gets the grammar wrong, promiscuously fastening –eth and –st suffixes on any verb form that comes to hand. People who know the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer and Spenser and Shakespeare understand that these archaic forms of speech followed an established grammatical pattern. This is it.

First-person singular: I do

Second-person singular: Thou dost

Third-person singular: He, she or it doeth or doth

First-person plural: We do

Second-person plural: You do

Third-person plural: They do

Imperative: Do it

Now go, and sin no more.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:47 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Comments

And yet, all pretentious writers should be apocalyptically grateful for the Biblical gift of "shibboleth" for out-of-context use whenever a phrase or sentence needs an artificial injection of pseudo-erudition.

It's a favorite prop of elbow-patched-tweed-jacket types, perhaps second only to "Occam's razor."

Actually, "played-out pretension prop phrases" would make an excellent topic for a future post here.

Isn't the second-person plural pronoun "ye"? Allowing for a lot of dialectical variation, of course.

And it came to pass that there arose one in the land one who was a mighty man of letters and learned withal. He forebore not to acquaint men with his wisdom and knowledge of letters.

If I do NOT give a hoot about modern rules of grammar, why would I be interested in the rules for Old English?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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