Just a four letter word

This time it happened as late as the week before Christmas. Usually it’s much earlier. Typically tension starts to rise towards the end of November, rage takes over through Advent, then exhaustion sets in, finally a frustrated resignation and the relief that comes from knowing it probably won’t happen again for another eleven months.

This year it was late indeed when the blow fell. The first hearing of Silent Night, that is. What? The most innocuous, not to say bland, harmless, heartwarming and, I have to say, most beautiful of Christmas carols? How many times have I sung it? And you? Almost as many times as we’ve heard it. So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a four letter word. Not one of those four letter words. Just a simple preposition: from. That’s right: from. The anticipation of it, let alone the reality, provokes in me an overpowering, impotent rage. I am liable to start throwing things, have been known to become violent. When it comes on I must be kept away from sharp things.

OK. Tell us why, you say, if you’ve read this far without deciding I’ve finally gone completely round the bend. Well, it’s about language, mindlessness and the modern world. It’s the turn of the year and I’m in Grumpy Old Man mode. I have suffered enough and I have earned the right.

Here goes. As I’m sure you know, the third verse of Silent Night goes like this:

Silent night, holy night,

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace:

Christ the Saviour is here.

Note carefully: the word from does not appear. Nor does it need to. But someone, somewhere – and even the BBC has fallen into this trap now, so there is no hope – decided that the third line ought to be Radiant beams from thy holy face. Why? Why? It works perfectly well without the word from. Does it change the meaning if you add from? Not much – but it makes the baby sound like a creature from outer space, giving off gamma rays or something. Maybe that’s what happened – how should I know? – but it sounds a bit daft to me.

So should I care? Not really, but I do – because of language and mindlessness. Because I believe the person who added the offending word decided that beams in the original must be a noun, not a verb – so there must be a word missing, otherwise it can’t make sense.

But here beams is a verb of course – you know, a doing word. From is unnecessary. The word order just happens to be unusual. It’s a poem, you see.

People who work in finance get hysterical about inflation because their trade is in money and they get the heebie jeebies if they think it’s being devalued. Well, my trade is in words and I don’t like them devalued either. That’s me.

By the way I checked the original German text. It doesn’t help.

Slowly I’m getting this out of my system – if not yet into yours. I don’t suppose you mind terribly which version of the carol you hear. You don’t have to mind. But I call this blog dinner party chat – and it wouldn’t be much fun for my friends to have to listen to this over dinner. Every year. Now that I’ve put pen to paper there’s a chance – just a chance – that I won’t feel the need to sound off about this if you come round any time near Christmas.

Happy New Year everyone!

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