Brian's History of Communication Design Blog

Weekly exposition on recent learnings.

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The King James Bible or Shakespeare

The last class reviewed the early history of the printed page, from the Roman-inspired incunabula through the advent of Gutenberg A comment made by the professor was how Gutenberg’s bible led to the standardization of modern German. And although there was no German state, there was certainly a German language. The Gutenberg bible, therefore, standardized orthography and word use.

I began to wonder, therefore, about modern English. I had read and long believed that Shakespeare, with his extremely broad and inventive vocabulary, and his active adoption of non-London dialects into his plays, had a profound impact on the standardization of modern English.

But when you consider that it was indeed the KJV of the bible that had a far greater scope of reach than Shakespeare (after all, most homes would have a bible, but not everyone would bother to buy plays), I began to realize that the KJV would have a much greater impact than Shakespeare.

Indeed, the King James bible added 257 idioms to English, more than any single source, including Shakespeare, including, according to Wikipedia, feet of clay and reap the whirlwind. Not to mention the standardized orthography.

I guess Shakespeare worship is best left to the English literature department. His plays are brilliant, but he didn’t have the overall effect on modern English at the level that the KJV did.