What is the etymology for the phrase, “God save the king?” All that I find is a trail back to the song. Yet it seems to me that there must be an origin that goes back into the language.

  • "Well may we say, 'God save the Queen', because nothing will save the governor-general." EG Whitlam 1975 – Jeremy Mar 15 '19 at 14:44

For this exact wording, it dates back to at least circa 1367:

Godde saue the kyng
Eulogium Historiarum sive Temporis

For similar phrases, the Oxford English Dictionary has an earlier example from The early South-English legendary; or, Lives of saints (c1300):

‘Sire king,’ he seide, ‘god þe loke and saui þi dignite!’

Translation: "Sire king," he said, "God look over you and save your dignity!"

  • 1
    loke would not be simple present but subjunctive. May God.... – TRomano Mar 14 '19 at 18:39
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    @TRomano So, arguably, is “God look over you”; it’s certainly not simple present. Semantically, it’s a third-person imperative, and those have always been expressed morphologically with the subjunctive in English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 15 '19 at 0:03
  • @JanusBahsJacquet It is a fervent wish, no? – TRomano Mar 15 '19 at 13:40
  • @TRomano You can think of it like that, yes. Semantically, it’s difficult to draw a line between a wish and a command when the subject is a third-person entity. Is there really much semantic difference between “God have mercy on his soul” and “May God have mercy on his soul”? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 15 '19 at 13:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet To my way of thinking, commanding a third-person entity is the sound of one hand clapping. – TRomano Mar 15 '19 at 13:46

From the Wikipedia page on this:

The phrase "God Save the King" is much older than the song, appearing, for instance, several times in the King James Bible... 1st Book of Kings Chapter 1: verses 38–40, ... "And all the people rejoic'd, and said: God save the King! Long live the King! May the King live for ever, Amen"

The King James Bible is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, begun in 1604 and completed as well as published in 1611 under the sponsorship of King James I of England.

  • There are other examples of something wished for being expressed as a command. "Long live the King!" (as in Rory's Bible passage) - "God bless America!" - "Down with America!" - "Have a nice day!" – Kate Bunting Mar 14 '19 at 13:32
  • Kate - all of those are much later than the King James Bible, so aren't answering the question... – Rory Alsop Mar 14 '19 at 13:40
  • Rory - I only meant that voicing a wish in that way is a natural form of expression, and not only in English. Vivat Rex! Vive le roi! – Kate Bunting Mar 14 '19 at 13:47
  • Ah yes, of course. Thanks – Rory Alsop Mar 14 '19 at 15:10
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    there you go @Mari-LouA – Rory Alsop Mar 14 '19 at 20:06

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