English Words/Phrases from Early Translations

Words or Phrases First Introduced Into the English Language in Early English Bible Translations [1]

The first recorded use of many of the words used in ordinary English today can be found in the early translations of the Bible into English. When John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate in the fourteenth century, he enlarged the English language by adapting many Latin words into his English Bible. The words treasure and mystery, glory and horror, female and sex all owe their English usage to Wycliffe’s Bible. Tyndale, translating from the Hebrew and Greek in the 16th century, did not borrow as much from the Latin as did Wycliffe. He did coin words from the Dutch and Germanic sources (after all, he did his translation work while in those two countries) as well as French. Beautiful and ungodly were such words. Many of Tyndale’s coined words were compound words, such as fisherman,castaway, and busybody. Both of Wycliffe’s and Tyndale’s translations included phrases which readily entered the language with their Bible translations – phrases like a city on a hill, my brother’s keeper, ye of little faith, salt of the earth, and thirty pieces of silver. Below is a chart of words and phrases coined by the early English translators of the Bible.

Wycliffe’s translation from the Vulgate (1382/88)

Word Bible Passage Derivation
female Genesis 1:27 Jerome’s Vulgate used Latin femina. Wycliffe’s female was based on the related Latin word, femella. The English word male had first appeared 7 years earlier.
sex Genesis 6:19 Jerome’s Latin uses sexus here. Later translations replace “sex” with “kind”.
Sodom and Gomorrah Genesis 13:10
childbearing Genesis 25:24 Compounded of the Old English noun cild (“child”) and the verb beran(“to carry or bear”). KJV later uses the word in I Timothy 2:15.
wrinkle Genesis 38:14 Wycliffe describes Tamar as wearing “a rocket cloth with many wrynclis”. It probably comes from wrinclod, past participle of the verbwrinclian, meaning “to wind about.” This verb is also source of our verb “to wring”. Tyndale later used the word in Ephesians 5:27, “without spot or wrinkle.”
affliction Exodus 3:7 Derived from the Latin prefix ad (“to”) and the root figere (“to strike or beat against”)
graven image Exodus 20:4 Wycliffe’s spelling: grauuen ymage
needlework Exodus 26:1 Coined by Wycliffe. KJV later uses “cunning work.” Other translations used the French derivative broidery.
consume Leviticus 16:23 The Latin root sumere derives from emere “to buy”, which is also the root of redeem.
first fruits Numbers 18:12 Coined by Wycliffe. The Latin Vulgate equivalent, primitiae was used in Exodus 23:16.
cast Numbers 35:17
grasp Deuteronomy 28:29 Related to the Old Norse grapa (from which come “grab”, “grip”, “gripe”.)
horror Deuteronomy 32:10;
Ezekiel 32:10
From Latin Vulgate’s in loco horroris. The Latin verb horrere means “to bristle or shudder” and was associated with a forbidding terrain.
shibboleth Judges 12:6
problem Judges 14:15 From Jerome’s problema. This had been translated into the Latin from Greek, the prefix pro (“forward”) and the root verb ballein (“to throw”).
affinity Ruth 3:13 From the Latin affinis, a combination of ad (“to”) and finis (“border” or “limit”).
mutter II Samuel 12:19 From the Middle English moteren. Later English translations use “whispering”.
seer I Samuel 9:9 Old English seon (“to see”). Luther used the related Germanic Seher.
zealous I Kings 19:3 From Latin noun zelus and Greek zelos, meaning “ardent feeling.”
botch II Chronicles 34:1;
Isaiah 30:6;
Deuteronomy 28:27.
To repair or patch. From Old French boce (“lump”, “boil”, “swelling.”)
scrape Job 2:8 From Old English screpan, sharing the Indo-European root sker, from which come sharo, shear, and scorpion.
wordy Job 16:21
contradiction Psalms 54:10 From Old French; a combination of Latin      contra (“against”) anddiccere (“to speak”)
glory Proverbs 17:6;
Luke 2:14;
Romans 1:23;
I Corinthians 10:31.
From Latin Vulgate (gloria) and the French (glorie).
bundle Song of Solomon 1:12 Probably from the Middle Dutch binden, meaning “to bind.”
treasure Isaiah 39:6 From Latin thesaurus in Jerome’s Vulgate.
childbearing Isaiah 49:21 From Old English cild (“child”) and beran (“to carry or to bear”).
feel Isaiah 59:10 From Old English felan, meaning “to grope”.
doubtful Ezekiel 12:24 Adjective from Old French verb douter.
irrevocable Ezekiel 21:5 From Jerome’s Latin irrecovabilis.
ministry Ezekiel 44:13;
Colossians 4:17.
From Vulgate use of word for “office,” ministerium
liquid Ezekiel 44:30 From Latin liquere.
transfer Ezekiel 48:14 From Jerome’s Vulgate, transferre.
mystery Daniel 2:27;
Romans 16:25.
From Jerome’s Vulgate, mysterium.
Interpretation, interpret Daniel 5:14;
Daniel 5:16
From the Latin Vulgate.
reap the whirlwind Hosea 8:7
puberty Malachi 2:14 From Latin Vulgate, pubertas.
salt of the earth Matthew 5:13
city set on a hill Matthew 5:14
ye of little faith Matthew 8:26
doctrine Matthew 15:9 From Jerome’s Vulgate.
keys of the kingdom Matthew 16:19
born again John 3:3
argument Acts 1:13
ecstasy Acts 3:10 From Jerome’s Vulgate.
exorcist Acts 19:13 From the Greek exorkizein.
civility Acts 22:28 Based on the Latin Vulgate, civitatem.
crime Acts 23:29; 25:16 From Jerome’s Vulgate, crimen.
adoption Romans 8:23 From Jerome’s Vulgate, adotptionem.
conscience I Corinthians 8:7;
II Cor. 5:11;
I Peter 2:19
From Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.
all things to all men I Corinthians 9:22
excellent I Corinthians 12:31 From Latin Vulgate’s excellentiorum.
ambitious I Corinthians   13:5 From Latin Vulgate’s ambitiosa.
liberty II Corinthians 3:17 From Latin Vulgate’s libertas.
legacy II Corinthians 5:20 From Latin Vulgate.
communication II Corinthians 9:13 From Latin Vulgate, communicationis.
allegory Galatians 4:24 From Latin Vulgate’s allegoriam, Jerome’s transliteration of the original Greek allegoria.
persuasion Galatians 5:8 From Latin.
offense; offend Philippians 1:10;
James 3:2
From the Latin Vulgate.
quiet I Thessalonians From Latin.
root of all evil I Timothy 6:10
uncertainty I Timothy 6:17 From Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.
novelty I Timothy 6:20 From Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.
quick and the dead I Peter 4:5
plague Revelation 9:18

Tyndale’s translation from the Hebrew and Greek (1525-26 & 1530/34)

Word Bible Passage Derivation
brother’s keeper Genesis 4:9
land of Nod Genesis 4:16
pillar of salt Genesis 19:26
full of days Genesis 35:29
coat of many colors Genesis 37:3
nurse Exodus 2:9
stranger in a strange land Exodus 2:22
Jehovah Exodus 6:3 Hebrew sacred and unpronounceable divine name, YHWH, combined with the vowels for the word “Adonai,” a less sacred name for God.
Passover Exodus 12:11 His own translation of the Hebrew pesach.
sin of the fathers Exodus 20:5
eye for eye Exodus 21:24
scapegoat Leviticus 16:8 A combination of escape and goat.
eat, drink, and be merry Ecclesiastes 8:15
viper Matthew 3:7
Acts 28:3
From Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.
no man can serve two masters Matthew 6:24
judge not Matthew 7:1
blind lead the blind Matthew 15:14
seventy times seven Matthew 18:22
beautiful Matthew 23:27 From the Latin bellus, “pretty” or “lovely” and the Old French Beltat,
housetop Matthew 24:17 Literal translation of the Greek doma.
thirty pieces of silver Matthew 26:14
brokenhearted Luke 4:18 Combination of Anglo-Saxon breccan (“to break”) and heorte.
fisherman Luke 5:2 Wycliffe translated the Latin piscatores, “fishers”; Tyndale developed the compound “fishermen.”
cast the first stone John 8:7
stiff-necked Acts 7:51
sorcerer Acts 13:6 From the Latin root sors (“Lot,” “share,” “sort,” as connected with fate and chance.
uproar Acts 21:38 English variant of Dutch oproer and German Aufruhr.
undergird Acts 27:17
ungodly Romans 5:6 From Middle Dutch ondoelijc.
castaway I Corinthians 9:27;
II Corinthians 13:5
suffer fools gladly II Corinthians 11:19
infidel I Timothy 5:8 From Latin infidelis.
two-edged sword Hebrews 4:12
seashore Hebrews 11:12
busybody I Peter 4:15 Compound of Old English bisig and bodig.
alpha and omega Revelation 1:19 First and last letters of Greek alphabet.
rose-colored Revelation 17:3

Coverdale’s translation (1535)

Word Bible Passage Derivation
Zealous I Kings 19:10 From Latin zelus and Greek zelos.
bloodthirsty Psalms 25:9
daytime Psalms 22:2
Blab Proverbs 15:2 Old Norse blabbra and Old Dutch labben.
slaughter Isaiah 22:13 From Old Norse slatr and Old English sleaht related to slay.
sprinkler Jeremiah 52:18 Old English/Germanic
consumer Malachi 3:2 From Latin.
blood money Matthew 27:6
voiceless Acts 8:32

Geneva Bible (1560)

Word Bible Passage Derivation
burnt offering Genesis 8:20; 22:2.
network Exodus 27:4
my cup runneth over Psalms 23:5
stargazer Isaiah 47:13
holier than thou Isaiah 65:5
Ancient of Days Daniel 7:9
house divided Matthew 12:25
Get thee behind me, Satan Matthew 16:23
through a glass darkly I Corinthians 13:12

King James’ Bible (1611)

Word Bible Passage Derivation
Not live by bread alone Matthew 4:4

[1] Based upon Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain’s Coined by God. London and New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2003.