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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

How they subbed the King James Bible

Listening to James Naughtie's "King James Bible" on Radio Four I learned that the committee overseeing the translators' work sat in Stationers' Hall in 1608 and listened to the proposed text being read aloud. They didn't read it, they listened to it. This must explain why the King James Bible is the richest source of idioms in the English Language. The number of people who've read expressions like "a voice crying in the wilderness", "out of the mouths of babes", "let there be light" or "my brother's keeper" must be tiny compared to the number who've heard them spoken out loud. That's what they were built for.

Reading something aloud is the best form of sub editing. It's still the best way of making sure the stress falls on the readers' inner ear the way the writer would like it to. It can be testing. When you ask children to read aloud something they've written they will often read what they meant to write, not the words they actually put down. I've known adults who are just the same.

I'm very envious of those writers who can speak whole sentences into the air and then commit them to the page. All too often in these digital days the temptation is to just put a few words down on the screen and then slowly build them into a passable shape. A lot of music is made in just the same way, which could explain a thing or two.