Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wither Thou Goest

Back when I was writing the Ghulf novels, it amused me to give the Martians what I called “decorous” speech—in part motivated by memories of times when formal, familiar, and vulgar speech coexisted and those capable of all three used them by conscious choice. This was quite easy to observe for a young person in Europe, especially in Germany. There regional dialects were different enough so that they had to be learned. While a boy I moved from Bavaria to Swabia; there I was sent to a boarding school—and it took me several weeks before I’d learned to talk properly with my school mates—although, to be sure, we could understand each other if both spoke High (read Radio) German. Many years later I lived in Germany again as a soldier, and I knew people whom I observed speaking formally with colleagues, familiarly with close friends, and in the regional dialect all within a ten minute period, quite spontaneously—all depending on who the other party was. I first experienced this in childhood. When some tensions arose at home, my father had a habit of assuming formal speech with my mother, to indicate displeasure, whereas he used the familiar form at other times—and my mother, quick on the uptake, answered in kind.

Douay-Rheims (1582): “Whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell.” Ruth 1:16.
King James (1611): “Wither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.”  
Revised Standard (1952):  “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.”
Jerusalem Bible (1966): “Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you live, I will live.”
Modern Language (1969): “Wherever you go, there I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge.”
New English (1970): “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.”
Living Bible (1971)” “I want to go wherever you go, and live wherever you live.”

Herewith an illustration of an evolution from decorous to formal speech over time. My favorite is the King James, of course, although I always substitute “shall go” for “will go.” What you first hear sticks more or less. Looked at carefully, some interesting differences appear here. Withersoever is a bit of a tongue twister, made simpler in the King James, then replaced by where or wherever. Wherever is emphatic, signaling that the place could be nasty—and I would still go. Where is more neutral. We no longer lodge anywhere. We live. The New English Bible compromises and uses stay. The oldest version uses dwell, which is actually closer to live than to lodge. I am amused by the insertion of want in the most recent version cited; it suggests an aura of modernity.

Unfortunately I’m not qualified to give you lower versions. Informal might be: “Whatever. I’ll stick with you.” The pop version? “Where you hang, baby, I hang.” — I could imagine pop culture LOL at my naïveté if I could imagine that it could read.


  1. Ouch! That last line stings... of course, I'm well past being on the pop culture cutting edge anyway. But still...

    How about this idea based on texting and thus, the smallest number of character possible:

    "WUR I M, 2 casa s mi casa"

  2. By the way (or, should I type BTW?), The African American community has long juggled with these multiple language issues. It is interesting and in some cases fraught with complexity... When to use which without running the risk of either alienating or offending? Of course, usually it is all done with ease and fluidity...

  3. Interesting observation, Monique, African Americans. One view of modernity is that those who live it have been lifted up, as it were, and live in an abstract world, as opposed to an organic one: rootless. Your observation underlines the fact that the African American culture is still rooted in the culture (versus civilization). Though this may sound odd to the sophisticated, that culture is more complex -- and its concern with linguistic forms is a sign of that.


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