Lo and Behold!

By Maeve Maddox

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 voilà!’ (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!”

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


7 Responses to “Lo and Behold!”

  • thebluebird11

    Maeve, sad to see this! No time to address much, but I did want to say that perhaps the “Low and Behold” movie about Hurricane Katrina was also a play on the word low; that part of Louisiana is quite low, which is why they had the problem when the dams broke and water flooded in.

  • Dale A. Wood

    It is a shame that so many people have such poor vocabularies.
    Hence, they just wrote down words phonetically, and as far as they are concerned, that is fine with them. That is not the way that English works, in many cases – but I have been told than in languages like Finnish, that is the way. There is only one way to spell each sound in those languages. Here, we have the endless confusion among poorly-educated people between words like “your” and “you’re”, and the use of apostrophes to form plurals.

    Then, getting back to poor vocabulary, this dates all the way back to 1978 when I worked in a huge building that was a factory on the ground floor, and offices and a computer center upstairs. I worked with an engineer who had formerly worked downstairs supervising the factory workers. He told me that he had gotten a transfer upstairs (into purely engineering work) because he was fed up with working all day “with people whose every other word was f***”.
    How’s that for a poor vocabulary?

    Nowadays, I think that there are lots of SCHOOLS where one word out of every three is a curseword.
    This contrasts with my Mother, a longtime schoolteacher (English teacher) and the worst expression that I ever heard from her was when she called a couple of her students “royal jackasses”.
    Oh, she got angry at a policeman who was directing traffic, and she called him a “cornball cop”. It took me a moment to figure that one out, but I was pretty young back then.
    D.A.W.

  • Nancy Romness

    This is what happens when a person tries to write a word or expression which he has heard, but has never seen in print. I have often seen both “That peaks my interest” and “It peeks my interest.”

  • venqax

    Nancy Romness– I think you are right about people hearing things but not having seen them in print. Other posts on here have pointed out things like, “for all intensive purposes”, “taking things for granite”, and a “wolf in cheap clothing”. Also there is a tendency for people to substitute the known and more common form of a word for the proper version without considering meaing. It’s especially likely when the erroneous version makes a kind of sense in its own right, e.g. “tow the line” or “anchors away”. Who is even familiar with the word aweigh? Not most people.

    I think this post adduces an example of the last case: Low is a common word, lo is not. “Low and behold” doesn’t really make sense, but if you don’t even know the word lo exists, you probably don’t think any more about it past that. It would be nice if people would actually stop and think about what they write. “Low, as in ‘low and behold’, is that l-o-w?” That definitely should pique the interest of an attentive writer enough to look it up. And of course fans of Charles Forte and “forteana” (and there are many) should be famliar with Lo!, one of his most famous books, LOL.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note: “wolf in cheap clothing”

    I think that it is a shame that we have 100,000,000-plus people in this one country who do not know anything about:
    1. Aesop’s fables
    2. The tales of the Trojan War from the Iliad and the Odyssey
    3. Jason and the Argonauts
    4. Marco Polo and his father and uncle
    5. Omar Khay’yam
    6. et cetera

    Back in the early 1960s, there was The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and it had a complete episode based on a pun. The episode was funny for kids, but understandable just by adults. The pun had to do with
    “the ruby yacht of Omar Khay’yam”.
    I laughed so hard when I finally found out what that meant. It was a pun on the title of an epic poem of Persian literature:
    “The Rubiaat of Omar Khay’yam”. Nowadays, the vast majority of adults don’t have any idea what that means.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Back in the mid-1980s, I met an interesting woman near Washington, D.C. We are still friends.
    She was a widow then, but she and her husband had been Refuseniks in the evil USSR, and when they finally got their emigration visas, they moved to Maryland.
    A she told me, many of the American whom they met were astonished and amused by their names because they were BORIS and NATASHA Yudzon – from Moscow, Russia. On the other hand, they had never heard of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show because it was not broadcast in the USSR.

    I never met Boris because he had been killed in a traffic accident in Maryland, and I met Natasha after she decided that she needed to “get a life” and not just spend all of her spare time home in sadness. From what she and other people told me, Boris was a fine gentleman and an electrical engineer, working for the power company in Maryland.

  • venqax

    And then there’s conspiracy theorists, many of whom don’t even believe the Argonauts really landed on the Moon. What maroons.

Leave a comment: