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Forgotten English, Forgotten Man

Chankings - What are ‘chankings’? Or what about a ‘coffee-wit’? Or ‘roorback’? I got a ‘Forgotten English’ desk calendar one Christmas, and it has been a source of all sorts of weird and wonderful knowledge.

So many words have fallen out of use. ‘Chankings’ turn out to be the parings of apples or other fruits. ‘Coffee-wit’ is a wonderfully descriptive phrase for someone who gossips over a cup of coffee. A ‘roorback’ is a false allegation for political purposes - perhaps we should resurrect the term!

This ties in with a programme I saw one night about a man called William Tyndale. He was the man who brought the Bible into English so that the ordinary man and woman could read it for themselves. It was fascinating. Tyndale lived in the 1500’s when the dominant church of the day had forbidden people to have the Bible in their own language—apparently God’s word wasn’t for everyone, just the spiritual elite. Tyndale translated it from the original Greek and Hebrew—no easy task in itself—all the while being pursued across the Continent.

He was a brilliant man who had great command of the English language and a profound effect on it. We all quote Tyndale's words without knowing it. He was a master of the pithy phrase In his Bible translation, Tyndale coined such phrases as: “let there be light,” (Genesis 1); “the powers that be,” (Romans 13); “my brother's keeper,” (Genesis 4); “the salt of the earth,” (Matthew 5); “Eat, drink and be merry,” (Luke 12); “signs of the times,” (Matthew 16); “a law unto themselves,” (Romans 2); “filthy lucre” (1 Timothy 3); “fight the good fight”(1 Timothy 6).

Several times he had to invent new words to convey the meanings; “scapegoat,” “peacemaker,” “mercy-seat,” “loving-kindnesses” “tender-mercies,” “long-suffering.” These words didn’t exist in English until conceived by Tyndale.

For this great work Tyndale was hounded and eventually captured, tried and burnt at the stake by the Church authorities. In 1856, the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his death, the Times newspaper editorial described him as a figure seldom remembered. Today he is largely a forgotten man. Although his impact on the English language is still visible to this day, that is not what Tyndale wanted. He gave his life so that “the boy that driveth the plough would know more of the scriptures”. Not only is he a forgotten man, but the book he worked on, the Bible, is largely forgotten too. Having given his life to get the Bible into the language of the ordinary man, what would he think of us today who have Bibles and yet seldom open them?