Q: "David's ruffians" and "Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Jan 29 18:17:47 UTC 2008

I've uncovered the explanation of the "Our tongues" part.

Having by chance entered into Google the search term just "Our
tongues are our own, who shall" (that is, leaving out "control us"!),
I found that it comes from Psalm 12, verse 4.  Although I can't
figure out who "we" is -- those who speak falsehoods, or the godly --
I would infer that Josselyn is using the passage to justify his
freedom to write as he wishes.

That leaves me with these questions:  where is the origin of "David's
ruffians", why did Josselyn and Hall juxtapose it with "Our tongues",
and whether there is an earlier source for the juxtaposition.


At 1/29/2008 12:44 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>Can anyone cast light on the phrase "David's ruffians" and why it
>might be placed in relationship to "Our tongues are our own, who
>shall control us?"?  (Note: I haven't had the opportunity to consult
>Yale yet.  Nor the various subscription databases, such as EEBO or JSTOR.)
>The two appear in combination in James Josselyn's _Two Voyages to
>New-England_ (1674), where he takes a preemptive strike against
>readers who may distrust some of the strange or fabulous things he is
>about to relate.  Josselyn writes:
>"Thus by these Famacides who are so minutely curious, I am dejected
>from my hopes, whilst they challenge the freedom of David's Ruffins,
>[sic] Our tongues are our own, whoshall [sic] controll us."
>I took "ruffins" to be a contemporary spelling of "ruffians", and
>found via Google two hits for "David's ruffians".  One is in _The
>Works of Joseph Hall_, of which there are several editions starting
>in 1625.  Hall wrote in a sermon "Every fiddler sings libels openly;
>and each man is ready to challenge the freedom of David's ruffians,
>Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?"  So this is
>presumably Josselyn's source.
>The other is in _Saul, a Mystery_ (1845), a play by Arthur Cleveland
>Coxe.  The guard of David are seen approaching.  Doeg exclaims:
>"More!---where---where?  Oh save me! Caleb, show me out the postern;
>These are lord David's ruffians! Bar the gates; No doubt they come to
>forage.  Where's the postern?"
>In various Bible translations I have not been able to find the phrase
>"David's ruffians" literally, but the incident that seems the source
>for Coxe's passage is apparently I Samuel, chapter 25, where David
>goes armed against Nabal, who had refused previously to give food to
>David's ten emissaries (the ruffians? Or perhaps David's entire
>band?), but is dissuaded from battle when Nabal's wife Abigail brings
>him food without telling her husband.  (Sidelight: After Nabal ten
>days later has been smote dead by the Lord, David takes Abigail to wife.)
>Now for "Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?":  According
>to some Google hits, Psalm 12, 4 has "Our tongues are our own, who
>shall be lord over us" .  The New International Version has "We will
>triumph with our tongues; we own our lips--who is our master?".  I
>will need to consult an exegesis, but I think Josselyn is using this
>to assert his freedom to write as he pleases.
>But -- where does "David's ruffians" arise, and why is it related to
>(who first related it to?) "Our tongues"/freedom of speech?
>Much thanks,
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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