John Denney 14 August 1998


It was a bit of a barnburner, yesterday.  All those saddoes – you know, the mouse potatoes, the hippy dippies, everyone who’s off message – well, 2000 of them got into the new Oxford English dictionary.  If you didn’t know, a barn burner is an exciting event, a saddo is someone with a pitiable life, a mouse potato is someone who spends too long sitting at his computer, a hippy dippy is someone whose lifestyle is well-meaning but chaotic, and being off message means you’re not toeing the party line.  And the dictionary, which, after all, is just a list of words available for use, simply records the glorious way the English language changes over time.

It’s one of the reasons that English is spoken as a first or second language by more people than any other is, and why that number is increasing all the time.  Mind you, there’s English and then there’s English!  In Pidgin, the dialect of English spoken in Papua New Guinea, they have a wonderful word: see if you can guess what it means.  Himbigfellayouhitiminiteefhesing”.  No?  It’s a piano.  And if you hit him in the teeth, he sure sings!  And there are dangerous differences between English English and American English.  Americans wear their vest over their shirt, and we wear them under.  Their pants and knickers are respectable outer garments, and ours aren’t.

Words are important.  They describe things and define them and help us communicate with each other.  The Bible sometimes calls Jesus “The Word”.  That’s because He is the description of God, the definition of God, and the way in which God communicates with us.  And, so we can understand it, the language of the Bible has to be updated afresh for each new generation in this fast-changing world.  Most of us struggle with the nearly 400-year old King James translation of the Bible.  But new words and new grammar don’t change the meaning.  Here’s something from the opening of John’s gospel in a very new translation:

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.  The Word was God …The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.

And surely the arrival of the Almighty to live amongst us is the biggest barnburner of all time!  The trouble is, … so many of us have gone off message!


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