November 30, 2005

appalling but true...

John Derbyshire:

...Thy neighbor's ass. Regardless of what you think of religion in general, or Christianity in particular, all those past centuries of widespread Bible reading were wonderfully enriching to our language. Now that is all slipping away, and our language is correspondingly poorer. I noticed this a few years ago, when I complained to my Wall Street boss, a lady with a degree from a good university and a six-digit salary, that in giving me a project to complete without the proper means to complete it, she was asking me to make bricks without straw. She stared at me uncomprehendingly. "Bricks? Straw? What on earth are you talking about, John?"

It happened again the other day. In conversation with some intelligent and well-educated Americans, I used the word "covet." Blank looks. Then, nervously (I am not a stranger to these people): "Er, John, do you mean... cover?" No, I said, I meant "covet," as in the Tenth Commandment. You know: Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's ox, nor his ass... Now they were looking at each other as if I had lapsed into Klingon. Where is
Roy Moore when you need him?...

It's also a matter of just not reading the good stuff. Good books are enriched with biblical terminology, and anyone well-read would probably "get" bricks without straw, even if they had never touched the Bible. (Mud bricks, what we call here "adobe," include straw with the mud, so the bricks will dry evenly, instead of just on the outside first. The Israelites, when they were held captive in Egypt, were once forced to make bricks without straw, that is, to undertake a task doomed to failure for lack of a critical material.)

And it's also a matter of lack of curiosity, something which just bewilders me. Why wasn't the "Wall Street Boss" interested? Why are most people not interested in an odd new metaphor? I guess they get rich in money, and I get rich in words...

Posted by John Weidner at November 30, 2005 10:06 PM
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