The King James Bible at 400

The Financial Times marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, in May 1611, with a review of a wide range of books on the topic.

This King James Bible is clearly, to date, the most read book in the English language. It was translated from prior Latin, Greek and Hebrew versions by a committee of scholars meeting in London.

What I find remarkable is the impact of language of this version of the Bible on common English. Phrases which originated in the King James translation include:

  • apple of his eye
  • clear as crystal
  • how are the mighty fallen
  • fat of the land
  • fell flat on his face
  • fly in the ointment
  • lick the dust
  • man after his own heart
  • rise and shine
  • rod of iron
  • signs of the times
  • sour grapes
  • sweat of his brow
  • wheels within wheels

Public speakers from the 17th to mid-20th Century drew on people’s intimate familiarity with the King James Bible and similar sources (Shakespeare’s plays, hymns) to create a bond through commonly accepted touchstones that matched their assumptions with those of their audience. Modern speechwriters, lacking audiences who would respond to overt Biblical references, nevertheless might find some of the phrases listed resonate unconsciously as they echo down the centuries.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great article,as usual. Do you know of a book that might list “all” such important idioms? This would be useful to my cross-cultural student groups.


Good question. The list I published came from the FT review of the six books. I did a quick Google search and came up with this website that lists 122 idioms.

Just found this list of common phrases from Brush Up Your Bible by Malcolm Macrone:

My Brother’s Keeper ~ A Pillar of Salt ~ Reap the Whirlwind ~ Parting of the Waters ~ Prodigal Son ~ Jonah and the Whale ~ Loaves and Fishes ~ Eyes to the Blind ~ Walk on Water ~ Tower of Babel ~ Fat of the Land ~ Sodom and Gomorrah ~ Vale of Tears ~ Mark of the Beast ~ The Four Horsemen ~ Noah’s Ark ~ Dust to Dust ~ Adam’s Rib ~ Be Fruitful and Multiply ~ Tree of Knowledge ~ Thief in the Night ~ Twinkling of an Eye ~ The Wages of Sin ~ Speaking in Tongues ~ Doubting Thomas ~ Feet of Clay ~ AMEN

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



− one = 8