Obsolete Words and Pronunciations
The metrical psalms and other hymn words we have on this site are largely the product
of writers who lived more than one hundred years ago and in many cases several hundred
years ago. Therefore, we should expect that some of their word usage and phrases will
sound strange to us today.
Indeed, in one sense it is surprising that they are so
understandable and that we can even gain valuable insights into the meaning of some psalms
through their translations. This is a strong testimony to their careful faithfulness to
the Word of God, which God inspired to be clear and understandable in any honest
However, there are numerous places where the rhyme scheme or
metre pattern is dependent on an obsolete pronunciation. In other places, you find words
that are used in a way that we do not use them today, or an odd sounding phrase, or you
will encounter a word that is no longer part of everyday language. The rest of this page
will discuss some of the more common obsolete usages and, where appropriate, how we have
dealt with them in our transcriptions of the original words.
An "ed" ending to a word
Probably the most common obsolete usage is found in the concluding "ed" of many
words. In the old usage, this "ed" is pronounced as a separate syllable, but we
pronounce it as part of the word. For example, "pronounced," in the old usage
would be spoken as "pronounc-ed." Where such words occur we have tried to
hyphenate them to indicate the need to pronounce them as a separate syllable in order to
maintain the metre.
In many places in the original words the poet contracted an
"ed" ending and indicated that the word should be pronounced without the
separate syllable. For example, the original might have contained "pronounc'd,"
which would indicate that the word should be pronounced without the separate syllable. In
these cases, we have spelled out the word in the normal way for our time.
Here are some additional examples you might encounter:
blessed / bless-ed (originals would
have read bless'd / blessed)
revered / rever-ed (originals would
have been rever'd / revered)
reared / rear-ed (originals would
have been rear'd / reared)
Another aspect of language that has changed is the pronunciation of some words. One very
common change is a change from a long to a soft pronunciation of the "i" sound.
For example, some words such as join and wind were pronounced with a long "i" so
that they would rhyme with mine or kind. This was considered the normal way to pronounce
these words at that time, but it sounds very strange to modern ears.
Some of these poets, and especially Isaac Watts, would rhyme
"majesty" with "sky." We're not sure if this was due to normal
pronunciation in Watts's time, or just one of his hallmarks.
Word Meaning or Connotation
A third area where usage is different is in the meaning, or at least the connotation of a
word. One excellent example of this change is found in Isaac Watts excellent paraphrase of
Psalm 100, which is known today as the hymn "Before Jehovah's Awful Throne."
Today, the word awful brings to mind something bad, as in "That movie was simply
awful." But in Watts' time, the word carried its original meaning--full of awe. So,
the title of the hymn says that we should be 'Full of Awe Before Jehovah's Throne."
Modern language would revise the title to "Before Jehovah's Awesome Throne,"
which is probably an accurate reflection of the modern change in attitude toward God
Some Obsolete Words
Some words are just plain different or not used at all any longer:
eke - also
for why? - because
As you read and try to sing the various old psalms and hymns found here, try to keep
these things in mind. If you find a particular set of words that you especially like, but
which contain some of these old uses, try your hand at re-wording them so that they don't
sound quite so old. That is part of what we did in "Behold What Wondrous Love."
It is our hope that as time goes on we will update the language
of more and more of these psalms and other hymns so that their deep meaning will be clear
in modern language. If you think you have a particularly good modification, let us know so
that we can post the modified version here. If we get enough of them we'll start a
separate category for "updated language and doctrinal improvements."
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