Appalachian Talk: How the Bible Influenced Our Language



In 1611, when the English language was at its zenith, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible was published after seven years of work by a committee of 54 translators commissioned by the King of England to provide the people of his kingdom with the Written Word.

Prior to this time, most churches did not have a copy of the Bible and hearing its pages read was a luxury denied from the common people.

In May 1611, the first “Authorized Version” of the Bible rolled off the press and the original copies were so rare and expensive, churches would chained them to the front pulpit in order to prevent them from being stolen.

In the years that followed, what would become known as the King James Version would undergo a handful of minor revisions, i.e., many of the letters appearing as “f” would be turned to “s” as the alphabet’s symbols became more standardized; however, the book itself has remained nearly unchanged for more than four hundred years.

Free of any copyright protection, the KJV is the best selling book of all time and has been printed an estimated one-billion times since its first run roughly 408 years ago. Because of its widespread acceptance and the reach of the English Empire, the King James Version has found its way onto the pulpits and coffee tables of peoples in every corner of the globe in both hemispheres — including the homes of settlers in the mountains of Appalachia.

Resistant to newer, more modern-versions, which came into popularity in the late-1800s, the pioneer families along the Blue Ridge Mountains clung to the King James Version, learning to read from its pages and quoting its words as proverbs to live by.

With a faith heavily rooted in the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the New Testament, it should come as no surprise that the language of the people who came to age in the mountains is heavily influenced by the Word of God which influenced every aspect of their life.

Today’s residents of Appalachia may be surprised to learn that the following sayings have their origins in the texts of the Scriptures:

“Bite the Dust” Psalms 72.9: “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.”

“The Blind Leading the Blind” Matthew 15.14: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

“By the Skin of Your Teeth” Job 19.20. “I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”

“Broken Heart” Psalms 34.18: ”The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart…”

“Drop in a Bucket” Isaiah 40.15: “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket…”

“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” Ecclesiastes 8.15: “because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry…”

“Eye for Eye, Tooth for tooth” Matthew 5.38: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

“Fly in the Ointment” Ecclesiastes 10.1: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”

“Go the extra mile” Matthew 5.41: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”

“Put words in one’s mouth” 2 Samuel 14.3: “So Joab put the words in her mouth.”

“Rise and shine” Isaiah 60.1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.”

“See eye to eye” Isaiah 52.8: “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.”

“Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” Matthew 7.15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

Other common words still spoken in the hills of Appalachia which can be directly traced to the King James Version Bible include “verily”, “cockcrow”, “damned”, “thrice”, “flux”, “twain”, “graff”, “prick”, “wont” and even “piss”.

Appalachian-English is rich in old English to begin with and the influence the King James Version of the Bible has had upon the culture is quite evident — especially in the language spoken by the common man.

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