Softer than butter - words from the Book of Common Prayer

Language is power and the way we use language defines us.  

Whether you have faith or you don’t, if you love language you can’t help but be knocked out by the power and beauty of the language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is extraordinary – and stands the test of time.

Here are some words and phrases that we are still using every day that first found their way into the language through the Book of Common Prayer:

§  land of the living

§  all sorts and conditions of men

§  a tower of strength

§  till death us do part

§  weigh the merits

§  lead a new life

§  all my worldly goods

§  give up for lost

§  at death’s door

§  make haste

§  peace in our time

§  at their wits’ end

§  make much ado

§  due season

§  the upper hand

§  works of darkness

§  babes and sucklings

§  fire and brimstone

§  the beauty of holiness

§  softer than butter

Deeply rooted in the Bible, of course, the Book of Common Prayer is the traditional service book of the Church of England and contains its official teaching. Created in 1549 and then revised in 1552 by Thomas Cranmer (1489 – 1556), it was the handbook of the new English church which had just split from Rome.  

Cranmer – a leader of the Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I – compiled the Book of Common Prayer by drawing extensively on his personal library of 600 printed books and more than 60 manuscripts. Although further revisions were made in subsequent editions published in 1559, 1604 and 1662, the content of the 1662 Prayer Book in use today remains significantly as Cranmer wrote it.

If you want to know more, you can get in touch with the Prayer Book Society:

If words - sacred AND profane - are your bag, let me recommend the weekly podcast I’m doing with my friend Susie Dent, the lexicographer from Countdown’s Dictionary Corner, and my word guru. We call the podcast Something Rhymes With Purple - because something does. This should link you to the podcast:

In every podcast we chat about a different aspect of the English language (other languages, too, now and again) and Susie introduces me to at least three new words a week - because I know it pays to increase your word power. This is this week’s trio from Susie:

Petrichor: the beautiful smell that occurs when rain falls on dry soil.

Zarf: the holder for a coffee cup without a handle (could be the cardboard sleeve).

Spuddle: to work feebly and ineffectively because you’re either daydreaming or haven’t woken up properly.




Gyles Brandreth