Skip to Content

A Debt of Biblical Proportions

“Another one bites the dust.” A quote from Queen, yes, but dating back to 1604, in the aftermath of the death of Queen Elizabeth 1.

If a child is said to be the apple of her parents’ eye; if an idea is as old as the hills; if, when ill ,we are said to be on death’s door or, when frustrated, at our wit’s end; if we have gone through a baptism of fire; if we say of politics that the blind are leading the blind; if we butter someone up or cast the first stone; if we divide the population into the haves and the have nots; pass each other like thieves in the night; refer to local yobs as scum of the earth; talk of donning sackcloth and ashes; seek streets paved with gold or make it by the skin of our teeth, do we have Shakespeare to thank? No: our debt is to King James VI – or to the 54 translators he assembled when commisioning a new version of the Bible, ‘that my bee understood even by the very vulgar’.

National Geographic reports that Google, when searching its digital catologue for most-used phrases, found that exerts from the King James Bible were quoted more than any others:

The root of the matter. From time to time. Turned the world upside down. A lamb to the slaughter. A thorn in the flesh. Get thee behind me. Be horribly afraid. Know for a certainty. A man after his own heart. Fell flat on his face. Stand in awe. All so familiar that they have been absorbed into the language, their origins all but forgotten.