I Love The
Posted by Neal on December 8, 2007
Since October, Doug and Adam’s piano teacher has been assigning them exclusively Christmas songs. Each week she’s assigned a couple more, and told them to keep playing the ones they’ve mastered so that they can play them at an informal recital. By now they have a repertoire of about a dozen songs each, but Doug strives to do his daily practice in the same amount of time as he took when he tackled his first two Christmas songs. He’s been treating us to “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Joy to the World” as fast as he can play them. As loud as he can, too. It’s even weirder when he plays his fast, loud versions of “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger.”
Ah, yes, “Away in a Manger.” The song I played a crummy rendition of on the xylophone in front of my second grade class. Source of “till morning is night”. And come to think of it, source of another misheard lyric. I heard a choir sing it when I was five or six years old, and in verse two they sang:
I love [ði] Lord Jesus
I remember wondering why they had pronounced the as [ði] instead of [ðə]. Careful enunciation? But why only there, instead of in “The stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay”? Oh, well, just one of those weird things, I guessed.
I think I was probably in high school before I finally thought about that question again, and realized what I thought was a the was actually thee. In fact, thee shows up a couple more times in verse three, in “I ask thee to stay” and “take us to heaven to live with thee there”, but I don’t remember noticing them back when I heard that choir as a kid. Maybe they didn’t do verse three, or maybe when I heard a thee that I couldn’t take as a the, my mind just ignored it.
Now I know that I wasn’t the only one who made that mistake. Whenever I hear someone sing that line in verse two as
I love [ðə] Lord Jesus
…I know that they’ve parsed thee as the. When they sing it as [ði], they might know it’s thee, or they might think it’s the and just be embarrassed to ask why they’re supposed to pronounce it funny. When they sing it as [ðə], though, there can be no doubt.
There’s also no doubt when they spell it out as the. There are 3450 Google hits for +”away in a manger” +”I love the Lord Jesus”, but only 900 for +”away in a manger” +”I love thee Lord Jesus”. For the people who hear thee, Lord Jesus as the Lord Jesus, what do they do with the thees in the last verse? Some leave the thee just fine, but apparently it never clicks with them that there was another thee in verse two: I get 590 hits for +”away in a manger” +”I love the Lord Jesus” +”ask thee to stay”. And there are plenty who recognize all the thees, of course: 700 hits for +”away in a manger” +”I love thee Lord Jesus”+”ask thee to stay”. Of course, there’s the usual caveat about not putting too much credence in the mysteriously and proprietarily generated Google hits; to illustrate, a search for +”away in a manger” +”I love the Lord Jesus” -“ask thee to stay” doesn’t get the expected approximately 3450-590=2860 hits, but 700 again.
Some people avoid the confusion by just substituting you for thee: “I love you, Lord Jesus” (3280 hits; only 250 if we restrict the search to pages that also have “ask you to stay”).
What I think is neatest about I love the Lord Jesus is that speakers who have made the error can go undetected indefinitely; it’s only when they finally produce the words themselves that the reinterpretation comes to light. A lot of language change works this way: for example, the interpretation of versus as verses, or the many eggcorns that have been documented.