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you may recalleth

October 28, 2011

I’ve just been reading ‘The Book of Benjamin’  in Private Eye, where they re-tell the story of something going on in modern Israel in antique prose which is supposed to sound like the King James bible. Parody depends on accuracy; if the column really sounded like the King James bible, the incongruity of the style with the content would be funny. Unfortunately it’s peppered with nonsense like ‘you may recalleth’, though the -eth suffix was only ever used for the third person. Later, we have ‘just in case though hast forgotten’ – ‘though’ is obviously a typo for ‘thou’, but even so ‘thou’ would never be used to address a plural audience; it is a singular form. In any case it would be inconsistent with the ‘you’ already used. Another quirk is that ‘an’ is used randomly, in phrases like ”an long time’ and ‘an thousand-fold’, presumably in the belief that it sounds appropriately archaic.

If you are going to take the trouble to write in Early Modern English, then you might take the trouble to do it correctly (otherwise why bother at all?). I still remember with a shudder an episode of Happy Days which was set in Puritan New England in the 17th Century, and the scriptwriters’ way of representing the English of the time was to tack ‘-eth’ randomly onto the end of words, even onto nouns. Thus the Fonz referred to his gun as ‘my gunneth’. Maybe this was deliberately perfunctory, intended to remind the audience that it wasn’t really the 17th Century; maybe it was supposed to be funny. But it would have been a lot funnier had the parody been accurate. Even 35 years later the memory pains me  To me, this sort of thing is like hearing someone trying to play the piano and constantly hitting wrong notes – it’s just horrible.

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