The Washington Post has a heart-rending story about a “patriot detail” — the ceremony of loading the corpse of a combat casualty onto the plane that will take it back to the U.S. for burial.
Since thinking about combat deaths in Iraq makes me feel guilty, I’d rather get angry about something that’s demonstrably not my fault: the dumbing-down of religious language.
One of the most beautiful sentences in the Christian scripture is John 15:13:
Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Now contrast what the Chaplain said over Airman Chavis’s body:
There is no greater love that can be displayed than for a person to lay down their life for others.
My argument is not for holding the language fixed; modernizing “hath” to “has” sounds like an improvement to my ear. And the translation quoted above isn’t precisely the King James version; in this one instance, the KJV translators slipped (saying “a man’s life” rather than the shorter and better-cadenced “his life”) and have been corrected by the folk process. But the poetic word order, the use of the concrete “man” and “his” for the abstract “person” and the ungrammatical “their,” and the active “hath” for for the passive “can be displayed” give the familiar version infinitely more punch than the dumbed-down and gender-neutralized version, which sounds as if it might have been copied from a software instruction manual.
Since English seems destined to be the world language, its defense against the barbarians and the vulgarians ought to concern us all. Not as much as recapturing our country from the coalition of crooks, fools, and lunatics now running it, but enough to engage at least part of our attention.