death defying

James Edmeston wrote the hymn Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us in 1821. His original second verse, addressing Jesus, includes:

Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert thou didst go

Many Christians are hesitant to think, talk, write or sing about Jesus as in any way limited, even as they talk about him being fully human (and fully divine). Some modern hymn books have changed that to:

Self-denying, death defying,
Thou to Calvary didst go

but death defying just gives the wrong impression. Google Ngrams reports death(-)defying stunts, feat(s), leap(s), act(s), death(?), courage, spirit and notes(?). Death-defying is a very 20th-century concept, and was almost unknown before then. 

(Google’s first suggestion of a video was from the Queen’s 90th birthday service of thanksgiving (2016), at which this second version was sung.)

A third version is:

Yet unfearing, persevering,
To thy passion thou didst go

which sounds the most reasonable. Note that the original words refer to Jesus’s 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, while the altered words refer to his crucifixion and death. The last lines of versions 2 and 3 are probably interchangeable. (Note also that the first line each time rhymes within itself, while the second line rhymes with lines earlier in the verse. The overall rhyming scheme is A B A B cc B.)

Many hymns are rendered problematic to some degree by changes of meaning, grammar, theology, sociology or taste. The question is whether we stop singing them, stick with the original words at the risk of people misunderstanding them, or change them; if so, by whom and how.

The first post for a while

I haven’t posted much recently for several reasons. In September my new job (as a magazine subeditor) unexpectedly came to an end. On my way home, I contacted the academic manager of my previous English language college, who said she’d arrange some classes for me, but that took some time. That afternoon, I looked at job advertisements, saw one for a subeditor position with another magazine, and applied. That also took some time, but I have now done two days casually, with a view to part-time ongoing then full-time permanent from next year. 

Around the same time, we were in the process of selling our existing house and buying a new one, which we have now done.

Then last week, my father died, so there were many things to be organised, most of which were done by my two sisters who live in that city. My wife and I, and another sister and her family, flew to that city for the funeral on Wednesday. 

I got a lot of my interest in English from my father. He was a regular crossword puzzle doer, preached in church almost every week, and would often go and get the dictionary if we challenged him over Sunday lunch about something he’d said. This did not extend to other languages, though; he failed Biblical Greek multiple times. One of his grand-daughters/my nieces has great interest in and aptitude for languages, but that might be through her father, not our side of the family. Continue reading

What rhymes with axolotl?

Not a lotl, I would have thought.

A few days ago someone posted on Facebook The Axolotl Song (earworm warning), by a music/video/comedy group called Rathergood, which consists of Joel Veitch and unnamed others. They quickly rhyme axolotl with bottle and lotl, and also with mottled, which doesn’t quite rhyme.

There is a surprising number of English words ending with -tle. Morewords.com lists 104, but there are several derived forms; for example, bluebottle is listed alongside bottle. Eleven of these have a silent t in the cluster –stle, for example, castle. There are also a few with –ntle, for example, gentle, in which the n is part of the previous syllable, and one with –btle (subtle), in which the b is silent. The one which goes closest to rhyming with axolotl is apostle, but I can’t imagine anyone fitting both of those into the same song. Otherwise, there are bottle (and bluebottle), throttle, wattle and mottle among relatively common words and pottle (a former liquid measure equal to two quarts) (why not just say ‘two quarts’ or ‘half a gallon’?) and dottle (the plug of half-smoked tobacco in the bottom of a pipe after smoking) (does anyone really need a word for this?). Continue reading