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Apostrophes Matter

I went to the local "ordinary Catholic" parish yesterday (as opposed to my normal "Ordinariate Catholic" Mass). We sang "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," using the music and text from the seasonal missalette. As usual, I grumbled to myself at the second line:

All on earth thy scepter claim

I'm pretty sure the sense of that is supposed to be "acclaim," not "take possession of." Though the latter is arguably a good bit closer to the truth. And I'm sure that I've seen it printed

All on earth thy scepter 'claim

where the apostrophe is meant to indicate the missing "ac." And I've always thought--this is where the grumbling comes in--that whoever worked up this hymn for the missalette simply didn't understand that "acclaim" was meant, and that "claim" is actually rather ludicrously contrary to the intent of the hymn.

Or at least I was sure that I'd seen it with the apostrophe. I decided to track it down, so, back home, I consulted no fewer than six hymnals--I didn't even know we had all these: The Methodist Hymnal (1966); The  Hymnal (Episcopal, 1940--they just call it The Hymnal, because obviously there is only one); The St. Gregory Hymnal (Catholic, 1920); The Pius X Hymnal (Catholic (duh), 1953); The Summit Choirbook (Catholic, 1983); The Adoremus Hymnal (1997); Baptist Hymnal (1956). 

And every one of them has "claim"--except the Baptist, which doesn't have the hymn at all.

Then I looked on the internet: "claim" after "claim" after "claim." The closest I came to what I was looking for, and thought I remembered, were a few variants that had a somewhat different line there, like this one

Saints on earth your rule acclaim

So did I just supply that apostrophe and plant it in my own brain as a memory? If anyone else has ever seen it, please let me know.

The odd thing is that in the "claim" version "sceptre" takes three notes--"sce-ep-tre", so the melody could accommodate "sceptre acclaim" perfectly well. As the hymn is based on the Te Deum, "acclaim" is certainly what's meant. But "claim," as I said, is all too appropriate. I wonder if Providence slipped "claim" in there as a sort of grim joke about the modern world.

I also looked for some definition or widespread use of "claim" in the sense of "acclaim" or "acknowledge," but didn't find that either. 


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I can't recall ever seeing it with an apostrophe.

One possibility is that a contrast is intended between lines 3 and 4:
'All on earth Thy scepter claim,
[BUT] All in heaven above adore Thee'

Another is that God's 'vast domain' includes the rulers of the earth, all of whom 'claim' His scepter: that is, rule in His name.

But I agree that the less optimistic reading is the one that comes first to mind!

Those strike as not more than barely plausible. Here's a translation of the beginning of the Te Deum:

"We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting. To thee all Angels cry aloud"

Seems like the "acknowledge" part is what the hymn is aiming at.

Possibly the most reasonable accounting for "claim" is that it's used in more or less the same way that "own" sometimes is, or used to be, meaning "acknowledge" or "acclaim." There's that hymn that says "While we own the mystery." I guess something of it survives in uses like "own the insult," which is sort of a combination of "acknowledge" and "take possession of." I wonder if there's something in the transition from German to English that supports "claim."

That's an interesting idea. I agree that my proposed readings are not very convincing. This is annoying me, because I really like that hymn.

I looked up 'claim' in the OED. A meaning which might have relevance here:

4. To call for, cry for, beg loudly. Obsolete. rare.


Wikipedia gives this as the original German:

Großer Gott, wir loben dich,
Herr, wir preisen deine Stärke.
Vor dir neigt die Erde sich
und bewundert deine Werke.
Wie du warst vor aller Zeit,
so bleibst du in Ewigkeit.

Here's how Google Translate renders it in English:

Great God, we praise you,
Lord, we praise your strength.
Before you, the earth tilts
and admire your works.
How you were before all time,
That's how you stay forever.

Well, that's...kind of charming.

I had a little German way back when and I sort of think "we praise your strength" is not far off from "wir preisen diene Stärke." Probably more literal-minded. But I don't have a dictionary.

Your OED find gets somewhere into the vicinity of what we're looking for.

But most of all now I want to know whether or not I really saw that apostrophe.

Second part of that was addressed to Craig, if that's not obvious.

I don't see why "claim" should need a prefix to convey its basic meaning - to shout or cry out - especially in a poem.

Maybe. You caused me to get out my 6-inch-thick Webster's 20th Century dictionary for the first time in years. That is the meaning of a word in a couple of other languages which are in the etymology for "claim." And it does list that, among roughly ten definitions, but calls it obsolete. As of when? is the next question, and that's not clear. The dates on the copyright page range from 1904 to 1966, so there's no way to know when that entry was written or revised. The English translation that we know was done in 1858. So possibly "claim" was used in that sense then. Or possibly not. It certainly wouldn't be unusual for at least semi-obsolete usages to be found in a hymn.

I agree with Craig because in my experience old hymns just use words in weird ways. I mean I agree with him in the sense that my immediate thought was that 'claim' probably has some 18th century meaning which all of us have forgotten

Possibly, though this is from the mid-19th. I guess the definitive answer would be to locate the first published version of the translation. The translator btw seems an interesting character:

Notice especially the quotation from Wilde about Walworth's poems.

It seems to me that it is just "claim," and it does mean claiming His sceptre in order to seize His power, but claiming that it is His power (the symbol being His sceptre) that we claim.


Also plausible. But as I may have said earlier (short memory), I don't even care anymore about that point. I just want to know whether I imagined the apostrophe version or not. It's bothering me because I can see it in my mind.

Maybe it was a squashed insect.


It would have to have been an *extremely* tiny one. If it was in fact never there at all, it may have just been bad eyesight.

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