Gentle suspense. Tortured heroes. Mischievous heroines.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lo and Behold!

Lo and Behold!

A football fan posted the following:

I decided to watch the Duke vs Miami game and low and behold Duke is successful this year…

Naturally the “low and behold” caught my eye. Was it just a typo? I hopped on my search engine to see what I could find.

Apparently a lot of English speakers write low for the lo of “Lo and behold!

Some of the misspellings I found were deliberate puns in headlines above stories about something “low,” like low oil prices, low calorie recipes, and low golf scores.

More, however, seemed to be the result of not knowing that the word in the expression is spelled lo and not low.

Here are some examples:

Low and behold! (a blog title)
Low and Behold (a 2007 movie about post-Hurricane Katrina)
…low and behold I have some pretty awesome DOMS in the mid region (exercise site)
But low and behold, some four decades later… (printed rap lyrics)
Low and behold it worked out great I got a laptop in the mail (testimonial on marketing site)
Autumn term will all be about the Old Testament and low and behold, we’ve worked out a complete program (university site in the U.K.)
Low and Behold…How Much Work Are You Willing to do? (headline on an author’s site)

If you don’t count the exotic list of words acceptable for Scrabble tournaments, English has very few two-letter words. The fact that only about twenty are in common use may account for attempts to add a little body to lo by adding another letter.

Lo may derive from the imperative form of the verb to look. It has been used as an interjection at least since Beowulf was written, but the tautology “lo and behold” dates only from the 19th century.

Long before that, lo–in the sense of Look! See! Behold!– was used to direct attention to something about to happen or about to be said.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; (Song of Solomon, 2:11, KJV.)
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught/The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light. (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Edward Fitzgerald translation.)

The earliest OED citation for Lo and behold! is from a letter written in 1808. Bulwer-Lytton– he who gave us the novel opening, “It was a dark and stormy night,” used it in 1841:

The fair bride was skipping down the middle..when, lo and behold! the whiskered gentleman..advanced..and cried—‘La voilĂ !’ (Night & Morning II. iii. v. 144 )

Nowadays the expression is used both humorously and cuttingly. Tennessee Williams has Stanley use it in a tirade against Blanche:

You come in here and sprinkle the place with powder and spray perfume and cover the light-bulb with a paper lantern, and lo and behold the place has turned into Egypt and you are the Queen of the Nile! (Streetcar Named Desire, scene 10).

Modern novelists probably won’t find much use for the expression but“Lo and Behold!” still has plenty of life in it for daily conversational use. People who use the expression in their blogs and online conversations may want to check the spelling. Historical novelists putting exclamations in the mouths of pre-19th century characters may want to stick to plain “Lo!”

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