The King James Bible gave English some awesome phrases

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Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, it is simply astonishing to learn the number of common English phrases that come from the King James Bible. “A drop in the bucket,” “the root of the matter,” “fight the good fight,” these phrases all got their life from that version of the bible. Yeah. Really. C’est vrai, for our French readers.

The December 2011 issue of National Geographic discusses the history and influence of the King James Bible, and in an article titled “A Bible’s Gift to Language,” it lists several famous phrases the book originated. In the list below, I have included phrases from that article and also phrases I found at the website The Phrase Finder.



Common English phrases from the King James Bible:

A drop in the bucket Isaiah 40:15

A house divided against itself cannot stand. – Matthew 12:25

A labor of love – Hebrews 6:10

A thorn in the flesh – 2 Corinthians 12:7

All things must pass. – Matthew 24:6

At their wits’ end – Psalms 107:27

Be horribly afraid – Jeremiah 2:12

Coat of many colors – Genesis 37:3

Eat, drink, and be merry. – Ecclesiastes 8:15

Fall from grace – Galatians 5:4

Fight the good fight. – Timothy 6.12

How are the mighty fallen – Samuel 1:19

Know for a certainty – Joshua 23:13

Many are called, but few are chosen. – Matthew 22:14

My cup runneth over. – Psalms 23:5

Out of the mouths of babes – Psalms 8:2

Set thine house in order – Isaiah 38:1

The ends of the earth – Zechariah 9:10

The love of money is the root of all evil. – Timothy 6:10

The root of the matter – Job 19:28

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. – Matthew 26:41

To everything there is a season. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

Turned the world upside down – Acts 17:6

Want to learn more?
There are even more common phrases that were popularized by (but did not originated from) the King James Bible and more phrases that came into the language from earlier versions of the bible. To learn more about those phrases, check out the site I mentioned earlier, The Phrase Finder.

Also, author David Crystal wrote an entire book about this subject, called Begat. Click here to read an interview he did with NPR about his book and to read an excerpt.

A While vs. Awhile

A while and awhile are tricky. Sometimes it is two words, and sometimes it is just one word. This lesson will teach you when to use which word.

a while
A while is a noun that means an unspecified amount of time.

Example: It has been a while since the dinosaur played checkers.

Awhile is an adverb that means an unspecified amount of time.

Example: The dinosaur asked her to wait awhile.

How you can tell when to use awhile or a while
Since awhile is an adverb (a word that describes a verb), you can replace it with another adverb. Let’ s use patiently.

Example: The dinosaur asked her to wait patiently.

However, note our first example. You can’t replace a while with an adverb, or else it looks funny:

It has been patiently since the dinosaur played checkers.

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So, if you replace awhile / a while with an adverb and the sentence still makes sense, then use awhile (one word). If it doesn’t make sense, use a while (two words).

Another trick is to look for the verb. If awhile comes directly after a verb, then it should be one word. Note our earlier example:

The dinosaur asked her to wait awhile.

You can see that awhile comes directly after the verb wait.

What about prepositional phrases?
If you see a preposition (such as for or in) before a while, make sure you have written a while as two words.

Example: The dinosaur asked her to wait for a while.

Example: The dinosaur said he’d come back in a while.

Test your word choice skills with a little quiz. Replace the blank with either a while or awhile. The answers are at the bottom.

1.     The dinosaur eyed his prey for _______.

2.     The dinosaur hid ______ and eyed his prey

3.     It had been _______ until the dinosaur made his attack.

Answers: 1. a while (because it’s in a prepositional phrase) 2. awhile (because it’s an adverb) 3. a while (because it’s a noun)

Erin Servais is happy to clear up word choice issues in your next manuscript. Learn how to hire her to be your book editor:

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Word Nerd Wednesday

Here are some fun language-related links I scoured from the interwebs. Enjoy!

Rap in 30 languages (including Esperanto and, my personal fave, Klingon), from How Stuff Works:

Wondering whether that word is actually one word or two? (Think already and all ready.) Here’s a list of the usual suspects at Columbia Journalism Review:

A basic guide to typography (en vs. em dashes, correct quote marks, spacing issues) from Smashing Magazine:

A talk about the overuse and misuse of “literally” with linguistic icon Ben Zimmer from CBC Radio:

Will Vietnamese add four letters to its alphabet? Find out at VietnamNet Bridge: