Thursday, January 21, 2010

Knocked down with a feather!

The influence of the Bible on the English Language was the topic I wanted to cover that day, as part of a dozen lectures allotted to me on Creative Writing in English. Some misguided soul had suggested my name to the Director of the Press Club, which was offering a short-term course in Journalism and in a weak (or confident) moment, i agreed to do those lectures. (I must confess that I was not called after the first experiment).

A knowledge of what constituted the substance with which the language was made up of would help in using it creatively, I thought. Among the major influences on the English Language in its formative stage were the discovery of the Printing press,the translations of the Bible and the printing of the King James version /Authorised version in early seventeenth century. These two factors happening almost simultaneously had the impact of standardizing the language.

One would be amazed at the huge number of the very very common words that we utter on a daily basis as well as the figurative and metaphorical usages that are drawn from the Bible. For some reason, I thought that it would help a person who is to take writing seriously to know the impact the Bible had on the language.

Thus it was that I took a lot of pains to prepare the lecture in which i highlighted the combined impact on the English language of 1. the translations into English of the Latin Bible and 2. the advent of printing into England.The impact was

  1. of standardising the language and establishing the victory of East Midland dialect over others and
  2. introduction of an incredibly large number of words and expressions from the Bible.

I wanted to amaze the students with astronomical contribution of Bible to the English vocabulary. I wanted to surprise them with the list of words that come so easily to us, which could be traced back to the Bible. I wanted to demonstrate how a familiarity with the associative and connotative value of words will give a depth to their use, and would also help in the application of such techniques as, say, extended analogy.

I concluded the lecture with the list that I wanted to surprise them with. After reading it out, I looked up with what I’m sure was an expression on my face that reflected the satisfaction of a job well done.

Any comments, questions? I asked.

He was a frontbencher who on the first day had asked me, “Can CREATIVE writing be taught?”

I don’t remember him asking any more questions after that, but I remembered him ‘cos I was grateful to him for that question which gave me a chance to discuss with them the concept of creativity.

I remember he wore glasses. He always had a smile on his face, the nature of which I couldn’t quite decipher.

After my lecture on the Bible, he asked me his second question – second and last.

“What’s this ma’am? Proselytizing?”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ?????????????? :-(

Wonder if he is a professional scribe now!


  1. A student who is still fresh in your mind. That must be fulfulling!!

  2. “Can CREATIVE writing be taught?”
    Good question with out an answer.:)

  3. @ venu
    there is an answer. it can be taught.
    @ sujatha
    will never forget that youngster - i couldn't believe my ears!

  4. You made me smile with this update!! The students who stick out are mostly the ones who asked the real questions- and we might not remember their names- but the questions stir us on to teach what needs to be taught! :)

  5. do you honestly think - creative writing be taught ? you can teach grammar, learn composition, teach what is meant by analysis, but "creativity", "insights" and "knowledge", reading between the lines are implicit forms of information that is difficult even to be mapped - at best you can only show samples of them.

  6. @ anjuli
    yes, the questioning student always keeps us on our toes, but this young man's question opened my eyes to a distressing fact about our youth.

    @ anrosh
    my answer is yes. in aristotlean times creativity was a 'divine madness' - it belonged to an elite league. eventually, the concept was democratised. all human beings are born creative -remember what wordsworth said "Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home" .
    that's why children are more creative than adults - as we grrow, the business of living takes us further and further away from god who is our home - the muses.
    having said that, let me assure you that there are ways of resurrecting our creative instincts - ask, for eg, fashion technology students. they'll tell you they are 'taught' to activate their dormant creativity. in writing, there are certain techniques and methods which will kick start the process of creating in words. That's what all lessons in creative writing try to do - familiarise the students with the existent techniques.
    it's something like this - a natural dancer will gain immensely by learning the basic rules of say, bharatanayam or whatever. once she achieves expertise on that, she can build on that and become innovative, original. otherwise she might end up discovering the already discovered - like the mathematician ramanujam

  7. What an interesting topic - "The influence of the Bible on the English Language". Wish if I could also attend the class!


  8. Even I think creative writing can be taught if he/she has a flair for it. I think it is like a student who is born with the talent to sing, taking music classes to further polish the skills!

    Cheers! :)

  9. so ... what was ur answer :) i wud really like to know what happened later!

  10. heehee trust a guy in specs to come up with a question like that.
    KT would you mind listing some of those words in your list? Curious.

  11. @ cris
    beautiful, elder, helpmate, brother's keeper, whited sepulchre, skin of my teeth, pearls before swine, painted jezebel, powers that be, prodigal son - -it goes on & on & On. if u r interested chk out history of eng lang by A C baugh and F T wood . shud find them in any college library(outdated books, tho-am sadly out of touch)

    @ sandeep
    was shocked into silence.


  12. What an interesting young man :)
    (loved his nerve and his directness)

    Would be awesome if he commented here ;)

  13. In my opinion,no one can be taught creative writing. NO
    It is inborn

  14. seriously what is 'Proselytizing'??? :o

  15. I studied most of my English literary Criticism 35 years [or earlier] before my time, at the Madras Christian College, though I have never even visited that institution. This is how it happened.

    Our lady teacher used only to read out the Notes from her not-so-ancient notebook, of her own MA days in our own College. One guy was absent due illness for two months and asked her to lend him her Notes to make up with, in original. He then conveniently lost it somewhere. But the Teacher was calm about it. She told him to get the Senior Professor's notebook and copy it all down for her.

    We doom-prophesied that the slacker would lose the Prof's notebook as well. The Teacher comforted us saying that if the guy lost the Prof's 35 year-old Notes, we could always ask the Prof to get his Christian College Master's still older Notes. They might then be direct-from-Oxford even, she said. Criticism syllabus cannot change from generation to generation.

    Teaching Humanities used to be the easiest, in those days. One only had to preserve one's own student Notes. They could be used till one retired. One could stop using one's brains for work, from the date of one's appointment.

    If things have changed now, I can only say that the present generation of English teachers have been careless about syllabi or have lost their respect for the antique.

  16. @ deepak
    such nerves unnerve.

    @ blunt edges
    it means converting.

    @ stoic
    'If things have changed now, I can only say that the present generation of English teachers have been careless about syllabi or have lost their respect for the antique'
    much as they respect the antique, things have changed - in fact changing by the second, reg litt criticism esp. it's calld theory now- so the primrose path has vanished for the humanities teacher.

  17. - i think there is a program in idaho, which enables you to publish your "book" at the end of the course .

  18. hi kpj
    i agree that creative writing can be taught. i have seen how any child can be taught to sing well if practice starts at an early age. granted, true inborn talent when brought to light cannot be compared to the 'taught' talent. a love for the art in question is what helps i guess. didn't know about Bible's influence on the language although in hindsight (after your post) it makes sense:-)

  19. can creative writing be taught ??
    YES... and a more emphatic NO !
    " you can take a cow to the river but can never force it to drink" - an African proverb !


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