How The King James Bible 'Begat' English Idioms In Begat, David Crystal sets out to prove that the King James Bible has contributed more to the English language than any other literary source. If you've ever "fought the good fight" or chuckled at "what comes out of the mouths of babes," you just might agree with him.
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How The King James Bible 'Begat' English Idioms

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How The King James Bible 'Begat' English Idioms

How The King James Bible 'Begat' English Idioms

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The King James Bible is about to turn 400 years old. It's a classic translation, standard for many, many years, often celebrated as one of the greatest works of English literature.

But linguist David Crystal also celebrates the King James Bible as a profound influence on the language itself, the origin, he wrote some years ago, of more idiomatic expressions than any other source, even more than Shakespeare.

Well, in his latest book, he set out to prove that assertion and surprised himself with the answer. So have you ever fought the good fight with a two-edged sword after feeling like a voice crying in the wilderness? Or perhaps you've chuckled at what comes out of the mouths of babes, all that just for starters.

What's your favorite phrase from the King James Bible to permeate our language, and which vivid expression have you read in the Bible that never really did seem to catch on? Give us a call. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the University of Connecticut Women's Basketball Team established a new collegiate record last night, or did they?

But first, David Crystal, an authority on the English language and a prolific author. His latest is "Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language," and he joins us from his home in Holyhead, North Wales. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. DAVID CRYSTAL (Author, "Begat: The King James Bible And The English Language"): Hi, Neal, it's a real pleasure to be with you again.

CONAN: And I guess we should start, you'll excuse the expression, in the beginning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes, indeed, in the beginning and in my ending, too. Oh, I felt like I was coming to my end after a while. You see, the question you raised a few seconds ago is precisely the question that I wanted to answer. And I put to all the listeners now. If you think of all those idioms that there are in English from the King James Bible, how many are there exactly?

And I didn't know the answer to that question. I mean, I would go around and ask people, and people would say: Oh, 50. And then they'd say: 100. And the highest estimate I had was 1,000. And so I felt, well, you know, I've got to find out the answer to this because I didn't know it.

And so I sat myself down a year ago, just over, and read through the whole Bible from beginning to end. It isn't something one does casually, let me tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. CRYSTAL: It takes quite a while. And I went through it, and I looked for every instance of an expression that I thought was current in modern English. And then I thought, I'd better read it again, just to make sure I haven't missed any out. And so I read it twice.

But at the end of the day, I had a figure, and that's what surprised me. And do you want to know what the figure is?

CONAN: We'll ask you what the figure is at the end of the show.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Okay.

CONAN: So hang on to that.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Let's keep people on tenterhooks.

CONAN: But in essence, the book is not only a product of your research in the King James authorized version of the Bible, but, well, what hath Google wrought?

Mr. CRYSTAL: What have Google wrought indeed? Because, you know, people sometimes say the King James Bible, as we've just said a few seconds ago, a huge influence on the English language, but, but, but. First thing you have to appreciate is that only a very tiny number of the expressions that have come into modern English, like fly in the ointment and that sort of thing, are unique to the King James Bible.

The vast majority come from other bibles from the 16th century, like the Tyndale Bible or Bishop's Bible or the Geneva Bible and so on. And these were simply siphoned through the King James Bible. You have to remember that the people who translated the King James Bible were instructed by the king that they should be conservative, that they should use the other bibles where possible, especially the Bishop's Bible of 1602, in its edition then.

And only after they found those translations wanting should they do their own thing, as it were. And so what the King James Bible did was it popularized all the expressions that were already in biblical use in the 16th century, and the way it popularized it was, as you've just suggested, people started not just to quote these expressions but to play with them. What hath Google wrought indeed?

CONAN: And there are some, you point out, we have to be careful with. Yes, the simile white as snow does appear in the Bible, but boy, it appears in a whole lot of other places before King James.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Absolutely, yeah. And what I think the influence of the King James Bible really was was that it popularized. Many of the expressions that were around before weren't getting into the language. The King James Bible, with its authorized status, not legally authorized of course but certainly appointed to be read in all churches, presented everybody with these expressions more than ever before.

So it didn't take long, really, before they started to adapt them, and in the 20th-century, 21st-century climate of language use, with its penchant for playing with words and punning and all of this, not surprisingly you get a particular expression, and it gets adapted in all kinds of ways.

So you get, you know, originally, am I my brother's - the one about am I my brother's keeper. Am I my brother's keeper? And you suddenly find it being used in all sorts of circumstances. Am I my sister's keeper? Am I my mother's keeper? Am I my brother's goalkeeper? And, of course, when the crash came a couple of years ago: Am I my Lehman Brothers' keeper?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: All kinds of adaptations.

CONAN: The example you gave of, I think it was a cartoon with an ape in a zoo cage reading a book of Darwin: Am I my keeper's brother?

Mr. CRYSTAL: Am I my keeper's brother? Yes, that was a brilliant adaptation, I thought. It's funny the first time you hear it, not the hundredth time you hear it, mind.

CONAN: Then I'm glad you chuckled for us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We'd like to hear the phrase that you think came from the King James Bible that has permeated our language, 800-989-8255. And there are any number of vivid phrases in the King James version that did not somehow catch on. If you have one of those to nominate, give us a call, too. Again, 900-989-8255. Email us,

And let's see if we can begin - we'll go to Darren(ph), Darren with us from St. Louis.

DARREN (Caller): Hi. I was a pastor and had a confirmation student who desperately wanted for her confirmation verse, the phrase: Surely he stinketh. It was, I believe the sister of Lazarus, when Jesus was ordering them to take him out of the tomb. I didn't let her get away with that one, but she thought long and hard, and it's not a popular idiom, but it maybe is one that could have been considered.

CONAN: It's vivid enough to have caught on, David Crystal.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes. Now, there's an important point here. You have to make a distinction between idioms and quotations. Now, my book, "Begat," isn't about quotations. It's about the phrases that have come into the language that people sometimes don't even realize have come from the Bible, and yet they use them every day, like fly in the ointment, for instance.

I mean, everybody uses that, but very few people actually know it comes from the Bible, and the point is it's used by people who are not necessarily Bible believers at all. The thing is, you don't to even to be a Christian or a Jew or anybody or have any religious belief whatsoever, and you can still say fly in the ointment.

And so this is the distinction. With a quotation, where you're consciously trying to replicate or echo some usage from the Bible, where - you know, using it with its religious connotations fully in mind, that's a very different situation, I think.

CONAN: Darren, thanks very much for the call.

DARREN: You're welcome, thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Brad, Brad with us from Columbia, South Carolina.

BRAD (Caller): Yes, hello. I have two favorites, and they're both kind of based in 19th-century exceptionalist, kind of nationalistic rhetoric. One of them is the phrase stiff-neckedness, which my main kind of reference for that is Joseph Smith's "The Book of Mormon," which accuses, you know, all of - it frequently accuses the sort of faithful members, prophets come about and accuse the faithful members of the church for being stiff-necked.

My other favorite is from Samuel Morse. It was the first message communicated through the telegraph, Morse through the Morse code. And it was: What God hath wrought, which is a slight variation on the, you know, what hath God wrought from the Bible.

CONAN: And David Crystal, you specifically cite Samuel Morse in repopularizing this term.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes absolutely. It's one of the ones that has really caught on, hasn't it? The stick-necked one is interesting, too, and it's interesting because that's a very good example of what I was saying earlier on.

It's being popularized. This is first used in the Book of Exodus, and it's been popularized by the King James Bible, but actually, it was used in every other major translation in the 16th century. It isn't unique to the Bible at all. It's one of those examples where people have taken the idiom from earlier situations and then adapted it and started to use it.

CONAN: Brad, thanks very much.

BRAD: Thank you.

CONAN: It's interesting, you also note that while the King James version of the Bible benefits from coming about after English had more or less solidified into its modern form, there's any number of passages that a copy editor, a modern copy editor, would have sent right back to the translators.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Oh, absolutely. Style has changed dramatically since then. You know, you get phrases like he offered an offering, you know, that kind of repetition, which was very popular in the 16th and 17th century but would probably be copy-edited out these days.

Or a very important one: How many listeners were taught in school, for example, that you should never, never, never begin a sentence with the word and? I suspect the vast majority, in which case, you see, they are going clean against the King James Bible.

If you take the Book of Genesis, for instance, there are 31 verses in the opening chapter. Twenty-nine of them, if I remember rightly, begin with and, you know: And God did this. And God did that. And so and was a very popular usage in those days, which, you know, some people took against in the 18th century, and many of us were taught against it. But actually, it's got a long Biblical tradition behind it.

CONAN: And there are some books of the Bible that offer us more - a richer field of expressions than others, some typically read in their entirely, you write, by people only with a special religious or historical motivation, that include long passages detailing Jewish ritual practices, census numbers, genealogical lists, law codes, battle plans or the building specifications for the Arc of the Covenant and the Temple in Jerusalem.

Yet those long lists of the generations, you point out in Genesis, yield an important exception.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes, the word begat itself, very, very powerful. You're absolutely right, though. I mean, when I was reading the Bible through, I read it, you know, literally from beginning to end. And there were moments when I thought: Oh, you know, am I sleeping, or have I fallen asleep? I haven't noticed anything.

And it was because some of the books actually don't yield anything, like books like Numbers and Deuteronomy, which are giving you - if you want to know how to build an Ark, it will give you considerable detail, but it won't give you much by modern idiom.

Important point to appreciate is that something like two-thirds of all the idioms that have come into English actually come from the New Testament, rather than the Old Testament. In other words, the sayings of Jesus have been a very important influence on English language tradition.

CONAN: We're going to talk more with David Crystal about the idioms that we derive from the King James version of the Bible, and he cites it as the most important source for idioms in the English language, a more important source even than Shakespeare.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

David Crystal is our guest this hour, his latest book "Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language."

Here's a question: What do the TV shows "ER," "Tales from the Crypt" and "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" have in common? My brother's keeper. Each has an episode by that name. It's a phrase found, you guessed it, in the King James Bible.

Read about the myriad other places this phrase shows up in pop culture in an excerpt from "Begat" at our website. Go to Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

So what is your favorite phrase from the King James Bible that has morphed into our language in any number of variations? And give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Leslie(ph), Leslie with us from Southfield, Michigan.

LESLIE (Caller): Yeah, hi.

CONAN: Hi, go ahead.

LESLIE: I'm Jewish, I might add that, but, you know, I use a lot of these, you know, daily because, you know, you use them without even thinking about them.

But I've always liked Tallulah Bankhead's version of, you know, as being as pure as the driven slush.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LESLIE: And I use it quite a bit, as pure as the driven - and then I fill in something incredibly stinky.

CONAN: Yeah, and that's the playful aspect of this, David Crystal, when these take on this playful aspect, and people recognize it sometimes as a Biblical reference but also a trope, something commonly used but with a spin on it.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yeah, it's very interesting, isn't it? Because when people are learning English as a foreign language, they often don't appreciate that there is this kind of history behind the expression, and they take it literally.

I remember once talking to somebody who was learning English, and they had obviously come across the phrase be fruitful and multiply, and they'd seen it on top of a grocery store, you see, where they were talking about selling fruit. And it was - obviously, the grocery store people knew the allusion. But this man didn't.

So he thought this was an allusion about fruits, and he started using it literally. And he would go into grocery stores and say things: Are you fruitful? Are you multiplying? Things like this and obviously getting it completely wrong. So you have know whether there is something special about the expression in order for its point to get across.

CONAN: Leslie, thanks very much for the call, and we hope you are pure as the driven snow this holiday season and that Santa sees that.

LESLIE: Well, I'm as poor as the driven whatever. Thank you.

CONAN: Poor as the driven microbus, yes. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Sara(ph), Sara with us from Columbia, South Carolina.

SARA (Caller): Yes, hello.


SARA: I have two phrases that I always assumed were from the Bible, but as I work my way through the King James version, I don't believe they're actually in there.

One is: God helps those who help themselves. And the other is: The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. And that second one especially sounds like something from, you know, a 17th-century bible, but I don't believe it's actually in there. So those are just two popular ones I wanted to mention.

CONAN: David Crystal, is she right?

Mr. CRYSTAL: No, that's right. Neither of those are in King James. I mean, the other thing you have to appreciate is that there are lots of other religious strands leading their way into modern English, the Book of Common Prayer, for example, is important, and lots of other adaptations of one kind and another.

Absolutely right that there are a lot of phrases have come into English which either - which people think are Biblical in origin - in actual fact they're often adaptations.

I mean, to take another example that suddenly occurs to me, you know the phrase weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Well, everybody says that's from the Bible, and in a sense, it is, but actually, the phrase, the actual phrasing never occurs in the King James Bible. What you get is Matthew saying weeping and gnashing of teeth and Esther saying weeping and wailing, but at no point do you get all three together.

SARA: Right, right. Well, in Job, you know, I feel like a lot of things get said that are similar to the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, but I don't know, that phrase just has that sort of currency, you know, the sort of authority as though it comes from the Bible, so...

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes, that's right. That's right. There are so many like this. I mean, nobody quite knows exactly how a phrase gets adapted. It takes quite a long time before it happens.

I mean, the Bible comes out in 1611. You don't actually get these phrases appearing in English in a recorded form until about 100 years later and sometimes much later than that.

So it obviously took a long time before people, you know, took the phrase to heart, assimilated it, started to play with it, and then out it would come. And not surprisingly, then, you're going to get variations. Hints of this will be in the original Bible, but the adaptations are later.

CONAN: For example, I was surprised to read in your book that the phrase the burning bush does not appear in the King James Bible.

Mr. CRYSTAL: No, indeed it doesn't, and nor, to take another example, is the phrase Adam and Eve. I mean, you know, that's one of those basic things of all. But at no point do Adam and Eve actually get linked together in that way, linguistically speaking, I mean.

SARA: Well, that'll be disappointing to the people who want to make some remark about Adam and Steve not being in the Bible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes, that's funny.

SARA: There's no more basis for Adam and Eve than there is for that.

CONAN: Sara, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

SARA: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. This from Nancy by email: Don't cast your pearls before swine. There's one that's been adapted to a few purposes.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Oh absolutely, casting pearls before swine, very, very fruitful idiom indeed. Interestingly, the - both sides of an expression like this can be adapted. You can actually have the first part, you cast pearls before something or other, and it's the something or other that changes. Or you can keep the swine part, and then you can cast something else before swine.

So it is a very fruitful idiom because it can be adapted in two parallel directions, as it were, and they're always the ones that achieve great popularity.

Casting pearls before swine has been in an adapted form, and sometimes literally. It's been used in pop songs and television episodes. And I seem to remember even named a folk band back in the 1960s called Pearls Before Swine, I think.

CONAN: Let's go next to Barbara(ph), Barbara with us from Medford, Oregon.

BARBARA (Caller): Oh, hi. I'm not quite sure of the origin of this, of my favorite statement. But it's - what does make a better man, to gain a fortune but lose his soul?

CONAN: What does it profit a man, I think, is...

BARBARA: Oh, is that what it is?

CONAN: I think that's the way I heard it.

BARBARA: I love that phrase.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yes, that's right. That's - what shall it profit a man if he'll gain the whole world and lose his own soul. It's from Mark, yes, New Testament, Mark, echoed, of course, in other writers, as well. I think it turns up in Matthew at the same - also.

That's one of the things. You sometimes can't find a single place in the Bible where a quotation comes from; you find in two or three different places.

BARBARA: I actually found this in a Loggins and Messina song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: Right, yes. This is actually a phrase that isn't adapted all that much, and the reason is because of its length. It's quite a long quotation, isn't it: For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the world and lose his own soul. That's a very long piece of text, and it exceeds our easy memory.

Most of the idioms that have come into the English language from the Bible are very, very short indeed You know, coat of many colors, manna from heaven, seek and ye shall find, I'm holier than thou. You know, they're tump-a-tump-a-tump. They have that kind of rhythmical punch, where as this one, you know, what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole - it's so long that on the whole, it doesn't get used as much as some of the others.

CONAN: A shoe repair shop might find it useful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: No. Yes, absolutely.

CONAN: Barbara, thanks very much for the call.

BARBARA: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's...

Mr. CRYSTAL: You really are quite a punster on this, Neal, aren't you?

CONAN: Well, from time to time, even when Ken's not here. This from Karen(ph) in Salt Lake City: I love the phrase my cup runneth over. A high school friend and I warped it into my cup overfloweth for years before we realized our mistake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: Nice one.

CONAN: There was, I think, a song, "My Cup Runneth Over with Love," but, you know, it goes on and on and on. The number of songs that you cite in this book is simply astonishing and the number of pop references.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Isn't it amazing? I mean, it - and all kinds of pop singers, from, you know, the most profound folk singers like Joan Baez and so on to the most radical punk-rockers from a few years ago, people who would have their hair in different colors and have all kinds of things all over them, and yet there they are producing Biblical quotations just like the best of them.

CONAN: And Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!" adapted by The Byrds.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Oh, a famous one, absolutely.

CONAN: Anyway, let's go next to Mark(ph), and Mark's with us from Flint, Michigan.

MARK (Caller): Yes, I was just wondering: You mentioned that some of the idioms were used in many of the translations that came out, many of the different bibles. Is that possibly because they were actually idioms in the original languages, in the Hebrew and the Greek, actually 2,000, 3,000 years ago?

Mr. CRYSTAL: Oh, yes. Now, some of the idioms are definitely part of the -well, two types of tradition, first of all a tradition that goes back to early English, to Anglo-Saxon times, so examples like that would be apple of his eye, you know, the apple of my eye. That actually, although it's in the Bible, it actually goes back as an idiom to long before English biblical translation started.

And then yes, you're right. I mean, some of the expressions do have an origin in the translation from the Greek or from the Hebrew, examples like, you know, holy of holies, and a lot of the stuff in Ecclesiasticus, where you get that kind of unusual construction in English - not that it's being a very popular idiom. Partly, I suspect, because it comes from a different language background. But you do occasionally get that kind of evidence of an earlier translation or influence.

CONAN: Mark?

MARK: Thanks. I was just wondering, based on the other conversation, it seemed like that might be the case.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Mark.


CONAN: Email from Kathleen in Milwaukee: I've always been curious as to why the King James Bible is the only version to mention the greyhound by breed. Proverbs 30:29-31: There be three things which go well, yea, which are comely in going: A lion, which is strongest amongst beasts and turneth not away from any; a greyhound, a he-goat also.

And she writes: Other translations refer to a strutting rooster or a horse(ph) girt in the loins instead of a greyhound. Any insight on why the greyhound was mentioned in this particular translation? Perhaps it was a favorite animal of King James.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Gosh, I have no idea. This goes well beyond the frame of reference of what I was writing about. An important - but it raises an important point, which it's worth putting into the conversation at this point. And that is this: When you're looking at the influence of the King James Bible on English as a whole - in other words individual words as opposed to the idioms - then there are examples, obviously, of words that have come into the language from the Bible, but not that many. I mean a word like shibboleth, for instance...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CRYSTAL: a case in point. There aren't very many, for the reason that I mentioned earlier on, that the translators were conservative. We're not talking Shakespeare here. Sure, many, many words have come into the English language from Shakespeare, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds; some people think, you know, over a thousand, and some estimates are higher than that.

But the King James Bible people didn't invent new words very much. They kept to the tradition of the vocabulary that had been there before, because of this conservative temperament that had been imposed upon them. They weren't innovators in that way. Now, why they chose particular examples like that one, I've not looked at that. I don't know the answer.

CONAN: You've also written that while people are willing to make plays on words on almost anything, there are some parts of the Bible that even the most derelict punster would hesitate to attack.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yeah. Well, are you thinking of a particular case there?

CONAN: Well, I was wondering if - you said that, and then you didn't cite any verses, and I was going to ask you if you've considered any.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Oh, well, the - I think the - as soon as you get into an area which is of extreme religious significance, even though the phrases resonate down the centuries, there is a reluctance to repeat them outside of a religious context and to adapt them.

Remember that it isn't so long ago that there were laws against blasphemy. I don't know what the situation was in the United States, but in Britain there were simply chunks of the Bible that you simply would not be able to make fun of or even just adapt in a serious way, in a nonreligious context, without somebody saying this is blasphemous. Now, I think there still are resonances of this around today.

So as soon as you get to very important parts of the Bible, such as, for example, the words of Jesus just before his crucifixion, the words of - when he introduced the Eucharist, for example, or the words of Jesus on the cross, these are so momentous, emotional moments of translation that in those circumstances I think you're most unlikely that you're going to find them being adapted into a general idiomatic context.

CONAN: David Crystal's most recent book is called "Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this email from Richard: I will saw off the horns of the wicked, which is cited from the King James Bible. He says it is used in the Texas A&M and University of Texas rivalry. The University of Texas nicknamed the Longhorns. So I will saw off the horses - horns of the wicked for that particular adaptation.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Oh, that's a nice one. Now, I didn't notice I didn't notice that, you see, because this has a very local reference there in Texas, evidently. I only concentrated on ones which have received some sort of general usage in the English language of the world, as it where. I bet if one looked at some of the way people have adapted phrases in a local situation, the mysterious figure that we're going to tell you about at the end of the program would probably be a bit larger.

CONAN: This is an email from Kylie in Fayetteville, Arkansas: I study religion in college, and one of the most interesting turns of phrase and least understood is found in Ecclesiastes 11:1. Cast thy bread upon the waters and thou shall find it after many days. It is used occasionally in modern speaking. When used, it has the feel of being misunderstood. Is he right in that respect?

Mr. CRYSTAL: Well, absolutely. Yes. What on Earth are you doing when you're casting bread upon the waters? Or sometimes these days you also get water. The thing is that the meaning has been interpreted in all sorts of different ways. Does it mean you're living generously or taking a chance or spreading your knowledge or seeing what happens?

I actually spent a bit of time on this one and I asked several people what they thought the expression actually meant and received several different answers. And I guess that means that it's going to be used in all kinds of different ways when it's adapted.

So at one point, for instance, I found a company headline saying we are casting our dollars upon the waters, you know? And then another one was - and not just waters either, cast your bread upon the Internet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRYSTAL: (Unintelligible) another point. And so there are all kinds of vague applications when you get an uncertain phrase like that.

CONAN: And we've reached that point where that number we mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast, the number of idiomatic references in the King James Bible that have found their way into common parlance - what's the answer?

Mr. CRYSTAL: Well, I found 257. Now, there's no magic in that figure, Neal, because as we were saying a few seconds ago, it's perfectly possible for somebody else to go read through the whole Bible and notice something, like in the Texas example that I didn't spot. So it might go up to 258, or maybe even 260, but it's not going to go up to 500 or 1,000. So the 257 figure is an approximation, but it makes the point that it isn't as high a figure as some people expect. On the other hand, it's twice the number that Shakespeare introduced, so it's not doing badly.

CONAN: "The King James Bible and the English Language" - the actual title of the book is "Begat." David Crystal, thanks always for your time.

Mr. CRYSTAL: It's been a real pleasure. Thanks for your interest, Neal.

CONAN: David Crystal joined us from his home in Holyhead in North Wales.

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