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Fetcht, Pluckt, and Dwelt

And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth, Genesis 8:11.


A reader of this blog sent me a question regarding our bible's use of the "t" in making some verbs past tense. As has been written about in many places, the King James Translators were grammarians of the first order. They understood language. I know that they understood many languages, but I'm emphasizing here that they knew language itself. They understood the nuances of language. Part of the miracle of the King James Bible is the precision given to every thought through the skilful use of Early Modern English.

Just as it is difficult or nigh unto impossible to find any scholars today who had the skill and knowledge of the King James translators, it is almost impossible to find grammarians who can diagram sentences in the minute detail offered to us in our text. I enjoy articles by various authors such as Paul Scott who labor to pry our minds out of the lazy, slovenly speech and reading habits that we have developed.

I am reminded of art scholars who ceaselessly study a Rembrandt or a Da Vinci painting. They are in awe of its beauty and they marvel at their techniques. Quite often they are unable to unearth how they even mixed their paints. They stare at works of art that no one in our day can duplicate. Comparing a modern version of the bible to the King James Bible is like comparing a high school art project to Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee or Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

The lifelong learning and practice of skilled Renaissance men has no equal in our day. I have long ago ceased from asking English scholars to explain nuances of speech in a King James Bible. They lack the understanding and the skill. My best answers have come from philologists, men who study language itself. They are rare.

With that in mind, let's look at a few places wherein men of impeccable skill used a "t" form of a verb instead of the "ed " form of that same verb when expressing a past tense. We cannot pass off their usage as the preferences of one team of translators compared to another. In Genesis 13 for example, both "dwelt" (verse 18) and "dwelled" (verse 7) are used in the same chapter. Clearly, the translators saw a difference.

"Pluckt" is only used once. And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth, Genesis 8:11. If I rephrased that for current Modern English I would say, " an olive leaf which had been plucked off". How much easier and concise to say, "pluckt"!

Likewise "fetcht" is only used one time. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it, Genesis 18:7. There appears to me to be a subtle difference in the usage of the past tense. It seems as if the act of fetching was the quick snatch of the right calf by a man in a hurry but not the emphasis of the entire thought.

"Dwelt" is used in the King James Bible far more than "dwelled". "Dwelt" is used 226 times whereas "dwelled" is only used 5 times. As we said before, both past tense forms of the verb are found just 11 verses apart in Genesis 13. As I look at those five places that "dwelled" is used and compare them to the 226 places where the other form is used, I get the impression that it depends on the emphasis. When the translators wanted to place more emphasis on the act of dwelling, they used the form with an "ed".

When the translators wanted to describe a larger scene such as; And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, Genesis 4:16, they used th "t" ending. Going out from the presence of the Lord is the emphasis of the verse, not his dwelling in Nod.

It doesn't take much discernment to realize that my doctorate is not in English, philology or any language skills. I have speculated here. My speculation is based on my confidence that "every word of God is pure" and that the King James Bible is the word of God. I would be fascinated to hear the opinions of some more learned in the skills of language itself. We live in an exciting time for bible research in which the depth of the King James Bible is being explored as we learn just what a great resource and heritage it truly is.

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