I’m old enough to remember when we used hymn-books in church. Most were in their umpteenth printing, and any typos that had crept into the first edition had long since been corrected. The spelling and punctuation were immaculate. Being a nit-picker by nature, I liked that.
Then churches began using overhead projectors for the words. The transparencies, written by any Tom, Dick or Harry who owned a coloured marker, displayed a horrific variety of errors. Things didn’t improve when, later on, churches moved on to data projectors. These days, I wince weekly at the glaring errors of spelling and punctuation up there on the big screen and try to tell myself it doesn’t matter. I should be focusing on the meaning of what I’m singing. But it’s hard work, like somebody telling me, ‘Never mind the crocodile in the lake; just enjoy the swim.’
One particular error annoys me: the mix-up of two words that both occur regularly in Christian songs. One is ‘Oh’, and the other is ‘O’. These are two quite different words, with different meanings and usage, but since whoever types the songs into the system rarely seems to know that, they are frequently wrong. For years, I didn’t know the difference myself, so I can’t blame you if you don’t, either. But as I’m enlightened now, I’ll share the light with you.
Let’s start with the word ‘O’. This always goes before someone’s name or a title—and nowhere else. It’s a formal style of addressing someone, usually someone of superior rank to yourself, as in the hymn, ‘O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end…’ or the song, ‘O Lord, you’ve done great things…’
The other word is ‘Oh’. This is an interjection, a word that conveys strength of feeling. It usually begins a statment of deeply-felt longing or strong passion, one where an exclamation mark at the end is appropriate. So we have the hymn, ‘Oh, how I love Jesus…!’ and ‘Oh, make me understand it, help me to take it in…!’ Or, ‘Oh for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s worth!’
So there you have it. Oh, what a marvellous thing education is!