Every Sunday, in many churches across Singapore, murder is being committed. The crime is not perpetrated against churchgoers. The unintended victim is the English Language.
The basic tenet of the Christian faith is the forgiveness of sin and the exemption from eternal condemnation by God. This dual effect is known as “salvation” for the believer. This salvation is an act of grace by God, through the sacrificial death of His son, Jesus Christ. The selfless deed of sacrifice has already been done, so there’s nothing that the believer has to do, or can do, to earn this salvation. It is a gift from God.
Frequently, this gift of salvation is touted as a “free” gift.
Which is tantamount to a butchering of the English Language, even though it is not done conciously, nor is it premeditated. In truth, there is no such thing as a ‘free” gift. As my trusty Webster’s dictionary defines it, a “gift” is “something transferred voluntarily by one person to another without expectation of compensation.”
By its very nature, a gift is free. It wouldn’t be a gift otherwise. To call it a free gift is not only incorrect, but also redundant.
It is almost similar to that phrase, frequently used in church sermons – “repeat again”. Many preachers like to use this phrase, usually for emphasis. But the word “repeat” means to “say again”. So to “repeat again” literarily means to say again again. Unless that is indeed the intention of the speaker.
There are actually more examples of similar transgressions against the English Langauge. But to be fair, the churches don’t have a monopoly on these. We hear them frequently in the streets, at homes, in the offices, law courts, and I suspect, even in Parliament. So this mangling of the language is more commonplace than it would seem.
But does it really matter? Does the use of less than perfect English detract from the message proper? Does it render the Good News any less good?
As a writer working in English, I guess I ought to swear by the correct usage of the language. But as a Christian, I say, let the Good News be shared freely in any manner possible, without being encumbered by any lingusitic rules. The important thing is the message is communicated – sent and received. If it takes the usage of a redundant word to get across the freeness of the gift, so be it. Feel free.
And I repeat again, feel free to say free gift!