or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


It's one thing to read about theoretical or putative errors in everyday usage; it's quite another to find them in action, which is why it was such a shock to read on a website yesterday the expression "low and behold". Someone actually used it! Someone thought it was correct!

It's another example demonstrating the validity of my unshakeable belief that people who don't read will never be able to use the written language properly. Merely hearing an expression such as "lo and behold" wouldn't give you any clue to the spelling, and therefore wouldn't give you any idea that "lo" and "low" are two different words.

Random House's Maven website, by the way, says that "lo and behold" is an example of redundancy, since both words mean "look". They don't, though; there are hardly any precise synonyms in English, and these two words are no exception to that general rule. "Lo" does mean "look", but it's closer to "look at that!", and the meaning of "behold" is more like "see" than "look"--a fine distinction, but a worthwhile one, as the pair of terms "hear" and "listen" demonstrate. (Unlike "lo", "behold" has a past tense, "beheld", which means not "looked" but "saw": "They beheld his glory.") The expression can be interpreted as "Have you ever seen anything like that!" At the very least, it literally means "Look at that!--Really see it!" Perhaps age and overuse have diluted it, but it ought to convey a sense of surprise or wonderment.


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