It was the wedding rehearsal. We were all our places practicing to process out after the ceremony. I asked if they’d selected their recessional music yet. You’d be surprised at how many ceremony details get changed at the last minute. At least, in this case, the bride’s maids hadn’t changed! The groom looked at me with and I’m-not-sure-you’re-going-to-approve look and said, Another One Bites the Dust. I asked if it was the same song sung by Queen. Now he really had the oh-oh look.
Imagine his relief, more like disbelief, when I told him the phrase bite the dust was from the bible! The King James version of the bible has been very influential in the development of the English language and 2011 marked the 400th anniversary of this translation. It ranks up there with the Oxford English Dictionary and Shakespeare as one of the cornerstones of recorded language!
So, I thought it would be fun to see where some of the phrases we hear or use almost everyday have their biblical origins. Fear not. We aren’t going to delve into murky theological waters. This is just for fun … and a little edification.
Let’s start with bite the dust. That sounds like a phrase right out of a 1950s cowboy movie where the bad guy gets shot, falls off his horse, and bites the dust. It sounds American, but it’s true origins are from several biblical passages that use lick the dust:
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust (Psalm 72:9).
The earliest literary citation is from Scottish author Tobias (there’s a biblical name!) Smollett. In his 1750 Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane he writes:
We made two of them bite the dust, and the others betake themselves to flight.
And here we thought we were cool in junior high in the the 1960s!
How about two more related to our [death] theme. I loved visiting older people. They don’t miss much and just tell you like it is. But they did have a polite way of saying things related to death. A common phrase was he just keeled over and gave up the ghost. It sounds so much nicer to say he gave up the ghost rather than he died. Something to keep in mind for conversation in polite company.
The origin is from Acts 12:23:
And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
This phrase doesn’t always reference death. Sometimes it refers to something not working any longer … as if our appliances or vehicles have any independent life of their own!
Lastly, those who have seen the movie Silence of the Lambs will get this allusion: lamb to the slaughter. (No, I don’t watch scary movies!) Actually, the Old testament is full of references to animals – sheep, goats, oxen – going to slaughter. Many ancient customs required animal sacrifices as part of their religious ceremonies.
But I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered (Jeremiah 11:19)
A very familiar passage is Isaiah 53:7:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
No doubt you remember Chaucer laying the groundwork for this phrase (smile).
For as a lamb is brought to slaughter, so
She stands, this innocent, before the king.
Little did you know when reading Chaucer in high school, he would be such a literary foundation!
Now that we’ve unlocked the possibilities, what phrases are coming to mind for you?