Ode to O

September 10, 2012 by 2 Comments

One change I have noticed in the 2011 version of the New International Version (NIV) is that they have consistently dropped the vocative form of address O, so that “O God” becomes simply “God”, for example. For some reason there are still a few Os floating around, in the Psalms in particular:

I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.
Psalm 9:2

Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Psalm 10:12

However, the large majority of the 993 occurrences in the older NIV have disappeared, including those in the New Testament:

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,”
“You unbelieving and perverse generation”
Matthew 17:17

But we still have the Os in:

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:5

This echoes Hosea, where they are also retained:

Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?
Hosea 13:14

Since we have not in my lifetime been in the habit of using O in addressing one another, not even the Queen, it is surprising that its use has persisted in the modern “common language” versions. I guess translators have found it a  useful device for indicating a vocative form of address, and retained it even though not in current English usage.

We should not, of course, confuse O with Oh!, an exclamation which remains in current use. The 2011 NIV retains these in full force:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
Isaiah 64:1

It seems to me that the Good News Bible gets these muddled at one point:

“O horror! horror! How horrible it will be for all who live on earth when the sound comes from the trumpets that the other three angels must blow!”
Revelation 8:13

This surely should be Oh! It is translating “Woe! Woe! Woe to those living on the earth …” and is an exclamation, rather than a form of address to horror.

Which leads to the question, when people exclaim, or text,  (as they do, even when having no apparent affiliation to God), “OMG!”, should that be “O my God,” or “Oh! My God!” ?

I finish with an Ode to O:

O O,  you really have to go?
Oh no! Must it be so?
Oh yes! I see you are no longer needed;
language has changed and you are superseded.
But some small praise on you should be bestowed;
at very least, you are owed an ode.

2 Replies to “Ode to O”

  1. Dorothy Dingle says:

    Nice one – lots of lovely puns. 🙂

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