Find the False Friends!

by Dec 15, 2018KJV, Linguistics10 comments

I’m editing some Puritan prayers for a new Lexham Press project, and I’m really enjoying the edification provided by these wonderfully eloquent, godly Christians of yore. But I am most certainly keeping my thinking cap on as I read (that’s my job), because the project includes a slight modernization—which basically means a translation from one form of English to another, an overlapping one. The key concept of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, “false friends,” has come in handy multiple times.

A “false friend,” as I define the term, needs to meet two of three criteria: it’s a word (or piece of syntax or punctuation, etc.) that is 1) still used today but 2) could or did mean something different in 1611, and 3) that has “changed in such a way that modern readers are unlikely to notice” (119). That last point is a little fuzzy, because modern readers differ. Some are more perceptive than others. Some are more experienced with the words and patterns of Elizabethan English than others. I don’t know how many people, or what people, a given “false friend” has to trip up before it counts as a full false friend. It’s a judgment call every time. I still want to call a word a false friend if I notice it but don’t know what the author meant by it; if I only know our modern use of the word and not his Early Modern use of the word.

I wonder, can you spot the false friends in the following prayer from Puritan luminary Joseph Alleine? I’ll update later with the answer(s).

O my Lord, bring me where you feed, let me live in your face, let me feel your smiles upon my heart, let me love you, tell me you love me. Remember, accept, pity, and take care of me, and then choose my condition, my dwelling, and entertainment for me.

Update with answers (12/27/2018):

It’s not always easy or possible to figure out false friends, particularly when they are phrases and not words.

• I think “where you feed” is probably a pastoral metaphor: bring me where you feed the sheep such as myself. If it’s a true false friend, I couldn’t establish this with the OED. But I do think the word strikes modern English speakers as talking about where God feeds himself. It’s certainly awkward in a way it probably (apparently?) wasn’t in Joseph Alleine’s day.

• “In your face” I’m not certain about either, and the OED isn’t helping me. But I think it means “before your presence.” In today’s English it does sound oppositional, I think.

• The OED did help me substantially with “entertaintment.” It gives this sense, which fits perfectly: “Provision for the material or financial needs of a person, animal, place, etc.; maintenance, support; sustenance. Obsolete.”

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  1. krolp

    Face and entertainment strike me as possible false friends.

    • Mark Ward

      Me too. So what do they mean?

      • krolp

        Does entertainment mean something like my circumstances? The situation which “entertains” or “hosts” me, as if I were a guest in its house?

        I would guess that “face” means either presence or pleasure.

  2. Thomas Zimmermann

    I’d guess that entertainment would be a false friend for the modern use that even got “germanized” and used here in my language: Get that new DVD, Gaming Console, Whatever, and entertain the boredom away.
    My personal guess, form a non-native speakers perspective would be that the ‘men of old’ use entertainment in a sense of occupation, activity.

    • Mark Ward

      You nailed it—except for the meaning of entertainment. I couldn’t guess it either. I had to go to the Oxford English Dictionary.

  3. Wesley Barley

    Could “Let me live in your face” be a prayer for gospel boldness? 🙂

  4. James C. Morgan

    Aside from the two mentioned above, perhaps “pity” is a false friend and what does “bring me where you feed” mean?

  5. Brian

    Without looking it up, I’d say that “face” means “presence.” I’m guessing there is OT/Hebrew influence there. I had to look up entertainment.

    When it comes to updating these older works, my preference is for footnotes rather than silent replacements–that way I can expand my own ability to read older works.

  6. Mark Ward

    Good answers everyone. I offered a few thoughts in an update to the post.

    To my friend Brian I say that there are pros and cons with the footnote approach and with the silent updating approach. I think it depends largely on one’s audience and their likely purposes in reading. For a devotional trying to find the Puritans a larger audience, silent updating has more pros and fewer cons, I think.

  7. Ulrik Sandborg-Petersen

    The phrase “where you feed” may be a reference to Song of Songs 1:7.