"Laodicean," which means lukewarm in religion or politics, was the word that won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington last Thursday. (The name of the winner was Kavya Shivashankar, which should be on next year's list of stumpers.) Spelling Bee words are hard words because of the fact that they are not much used---somehow have never made it into or have dropped out of the working vocabulary of the general population. No one would know "Laodicean" except a few Jesus freaks.
It's interesting when expressions that used to have concrete and well-known references become paler and paler until no one is around who remembers their original meanings, and all that remains is the smile on the Cheshire Cat. ("Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater" was once an actual, if tongue-in-cheek, caution referring to the filthy tub water that the last on the family totem pole had the dubious honor of bathing in, after Dad, Mom and the older siblings had taken their turns.)
It's most interesting when the linguistic extinctions are from the biblical word stock. In 1913, The New York Times compared a new income tax to a "rock of credit from which abundant streams of revenue will flow whenever Congress chooses to smite it." I would wager that more people 96 years ago recognized that as a cute allusion to Moses smiting the rock in the wilderness than do now.
My brother, who lived in France for a quarter century, once told me there is a fancy school for future diplomats in the Paris area where a survey produced the results that many students could not name the three Persons of the Trinity (Joseph, Mary, Jesus?)
I personally don't worry very much that fewer and fewer people can trace to the Bible such casually flung expressions as "good Samaritan," "walking on water," "stumbling block," "my brother's keeper," "being all things to all men," "you can't serve two masters," "patience of Job," "turn the other cheek," "shibboleth," "a house divided cannot stand," "plague of locusts," "the first shall be last," "the meek shall inherit the earth," "Armageddon," and "the skin of my teeth" (Job 19:20).
But I do find it passing strange---and not a little significant---that in the quest to produce well-educated graduates of fine universities, our educators have eliminated from consideration the one book that, more than any other, created Western Civilization.
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