Saturday, February 11, 2006

Phrases: "Writing On The Wall"

In the British Isles, we say "the writing's on the wall", but in the U.S. it seems more common to say, "the handwriting's on the wall". The origin is the Book of Daniel (not the cancelled NBC series).

I think the British version is correct. My guess is that Americans have combined/confused the mysterious "hand" with the "writing".

Compare and contrast "The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khaiyyam", as translated by Edward Fitzgerald:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

(But note the alternate translation by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shahat at the end of this page.)

And, speaking of British-American differences, how do you pronounce "2001: A Space Odyssey"?

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