Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Enjoying some continuity in an ever-changing world

Nothing is static, of course, but it does seem to me as if change occurs more rapidly than it has in the past. Indeed, barring the advent of the printing press, I can't imagine a more dramatic change in language than has occurred since our omnipresent media and technology world emerged. Text messaging has resulted in a generation of young people who write an entirely different type of English from their elders, while pop culture has coopted the language with remarkable speed ("bling," "my bad," "shizzle," etc.). It is therefore rather comforting to find that some things stick around. The formulation may be funny, but I bet you recognize each of these proverbs:

"O good turne asket another." "When the hors is stolen, steyke the stabul dore." "Where is no fyre ther is no smoke." "Brende childe fyre dredes." "Many hondes maken lite werke." "Maner makes man." "The more haste, the werse spede." "Bettur ys late thanne never."
I copied all of these familiar proverbs out of Peter Ackroyd's "The Life of Thomas More" (p. 22). These are proverbs that were taught to school boys at the end of the 15th Century. Ackroyd, though, suspects that they're even older than that:
These proverbs were old when they were collected in manuscript form, which suggests a tradition of speech enduring for almost a thousand years.
Wow. I always enjoy these moments of connection with the past. It's one of the reasons I like to read the King James version of the New Testament. So many of those phrases are still common currency in our language. And since the translators in 1611 borrowed liberally from Tyndale's translation, those familiar phrases actually go back to the 1520s and 1530s.