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.

Yo mama’s so fat a hyperbole couldn’t even exaggerate her weight.

Lesson: Spotting hyperbole in literature, pop culture, and politics.

hyperbole: an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.” –

Hyperbole is a tool used in literature and rhetoric when you want to make your point in an entertaining or more effective, and not entirely truthful, way.

For instance, if you were telling your friends about the time you almost got eaten by an alligator, you could just say, “One time I almost got eaten by an alligator, but I scared it off by punching its nose.” However, you could make the story even more enticing and memorable if you used hyperbole to exaggerate things just a touch. You could also say, “This truck-sized alligator rushed out of the swamp like an Olympic sprinter. Then it dashed at me, baring its almost metallic, sharp-as-a-rusty-can teeth. But I wasn’t scared at all. I sauntered up to that beast, and I pulled my fist back, and I bopped it on the nose, giving it one heck of a nose bleed. As I stared into the sky victoriously, it whimpered and crawled back into the swamp to go find it’s mommy.”

Which story would you rather listen to?

Hyperbole in literature
Since hyperbole has a way of making a great story greater, it is an oft-used tool in literature. A lot of your favorite stories might only be five pages long without it.

A great example of hyperbole is the description of Paul Bunyan’s winter in the story “Babe, the Blue Ox.”

“Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”

That’s a lot more interesting than just saying, “It was a cold winter.”

Humorous hyperbole
One of the most common places we encounter hyperbole is in jokes. Several types of jokes rely on hyperbole to get the laughs out. A famous example is “Yo Mama” jokes.

As in: Yo mama is so fat that her cereal bowl came with a lifeguard.

Now, we aren’t really supposed to believe that your mother’s intense hunger and ability to consume large quantities of food somehow drove her to acquire a cereal bowl so enormous it could fit (and actually was staffed by) a lifeguard. The joke is merely using hyperbole to poke fun at your mother’s (or a proverbial mother’s) waistline.

Let’s look at a couple more:

Yo mama is so ugly that her shadow ran away from her.

Yo mama is so dirty that when she tried to take a bath, the water jumped out and said “I’ll wait.”

The hyperbole in both of these jokes is easy to spot. Shadows can’t move by their own volition, and water is also unable to move on its own or to speak. So you know the jokester is exaggerating to make a humorous effect. Then you chuckle, and a good time is had by all (except, maybe, your mother).

Hyperbole in political rhetoric
However, hyperbole is more difficult to spot, and less funny, when people use it outside of jokes and literature—such as, let’s say, on the campaign trail.

For kicks, let’s take a look at some things a Congresswoman from my home state has said recently. Try to spot the hyperbole she uses.

I spotted “the Saudi Arabia of oil,” “horror picture show” “gangster government,” and “Pelosi healthcare nightmare.” Since, for instance, the American government is not literally made of guys in dark suits sending messages of newspaper-wrapped fish, it’s safe to say Michele Bachmann was using hyperbole.

Hyperbole used for fun makes life more interesting. But when we hear it from people who are supposed to tell us the straight facts, it can be confusing and dangerous. And it’s not just Michele Bachmann, of course. It’s politicians of every stripe.

Hyperbole is a useful tool, so let’s use it. Notice it when it is used effectively in your favorite books. But also be on the look out for hyperbole pop ups in not-so-appropriate arenas.

Ye Old Mispronunciation: The Long Forgotten Letter “Thorn”


image of letter thorn

This is what the letter thorn looked like.

We’ve all seen those kitschy, old-timey business signs like “Ye Old Curiosity Shop,” or “Ye Old Hat Shop,” or “Ye Old Beer Stand.” Shockingly, this whole time we have been mispronouncing these names. In these cases, ye is not pronounced with a y sound, as we are used to hearing. That ye is actually pronounced the. Yes, that the.

Here’s how the story starts. A long, long time ago when English was still Old English, the letter people used to represent the th sound was represented by a letter called “thorn.” (The thorn looked like a letter p with the hump part scooted down to the middle.) During these times, communicating with the written letter thorn was no problem, as written communication consisted of using pen and ink. You could write any letter you wanted.

The printing press is what led to this ye confusion and ultimately the demise of thorn. This is because early printing fonts had to be imported from Germany and Italy, where there was no sign for thorn. It was the thinking then that the letter y most closely resembled the thorn, so printers substituted it with a y. And that’s why we have those cheesy “Ye Old” shop signs now.

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However, you may also recognize ye as being an archaic way to say you. If we are looking through “Ye Old” history, this is the authentic path for ye pronounced with a traditional y sound. All of those signs are actually saying “You Old”  such and such, which sounds like a really lame put-down. You old curiosity shop! Ouch.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
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Is that irony in your pocket? I couldn’t tell without a punctuation mark.

Think the interrobang is strange? Well, the nonstandard punctuation department is hardly a lonely place. For centuries, humans have been toying with squiggly lines and dots, trying to get them to do more than the jobs of standard punctuation.

One of the interrobang’s odd companions arose near the end of the 1800s when French poet Alcanter de Brahm invented a mark to show when an author intended a sentence to be understood on a different level than is initially read. Thus, the irony mark: ؟


Just for fun, here is how two quotes from one of history’s funniest users of irony, Mark Twain, would look with the irony mark:

– All generalizations are false, including this one؟


– Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry؟

Yet, Twain didn’t use the irony mark. And, despite Alcanter de Brahm’s attempts, the irony mark is still rarely seen. I think the reason comes down to authors’ respect for their readers. One who writes needs to work to express their ideas clearly. After that, the writer must trust the intelligence of their readers and that they will understand irony when they come across it.

But if you subscribe to the Idiocracy view of future and fear the dumbing down of popular culture (How soon until we see this contest: Explain the meaning of life in 140 characters or less.), we might one day need the irony mark.

Interrobang: Is this the coolest name for a punctuation mark ever‽

interrobang symbolIn writing, sometimes it is necessary to express both excitement/surprise and disbelief at the same time. The most accepted method of showing these emotions through punctuation is to use both a question mark (?) and an exclamation point (!).

Did that dragon actually blow bubbles out of his nose?!

You saw Marvin kissing whom outside of study hall?!

However, there is a nonstandard symbol, called the “interrobang,” that melds both the question mark and the exclamation point into a symbol that looks like this: ‽

So, instead, the sentences would look like this:

Did that dragon actually blow bubbles out of his nose‽

You saw Marvin kissing whom outside of study hall‽

The point behind the point
The reason behind the new punctuation mark is to replace the clunky use of two punctuation marks into one elegant symbol, increasing efficiency, style, and general awesomeness.

The name “interrobang” comes from comes from a combination of the words “interrogative point,” which is another name for a question mark, and “bang,” which is printers’ slang for an exclamation point.

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Interrobang origins
In 1962, advertising executive Martin K. Speckter invented the mark, thinking that advertisements would look better if surprised rhetorical questions could be conveyed with a single punctuation mark. He proposed the new mark in a TYPEtalks magazine article, thus launching a fledgling campaign for the interrobang.

For a brief period, it seemed like people might widely adopt the little punctuation mark that could. The year 1966 brought the release of the Americana typeface, which included the interrobang. Two years later, the mark became available on some Remington typewriters.  And during the 1970s, Smith-Corona typewriters also offered the mark.

Using the interrobang
The interrobang is available through Microsoft Word. To use the mark, change your font to Wingdings 2. Then press the key marked with a tilde. (It’s beside the number one key on the top left side of your keyboard.) This will insert an interrobang into your Word document.

Now you will be able to express excitement mixed with surprise and disbelief with one stylish mark. Just imagine yourself typing the following:

Wait, you’re telling me not enough people are in lust with the interrobang‽

Feels good, doesn’t it‽

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
Instagram: @dot_and_dash_llc