The Powers That Be

In almost every book I read lately, the author mentions, at least once, “the powers that be.” The expression irritates me because . . . well, because it’s irritating. It’s a cliché, and like so many clichés, it’s too general. If “the powers that be” refer to the people who decide what is allowed or acceptable in a group or organization or government, then in any given situation, the powers that be are different. For example, if the author is referring to the board in charge of a homeowner’s association, then those powers that be are completely different from those governing a country.

So to use the phrase “the powers that be” is not just a cliché, but it’s also pure laziness on the author’s part. If “the powers that be” in a book are important enough to be mentioned in such a haphazard way, then they are important enough to be mentioned more specifically, by occupation if nothing else.

Sometimes the author puts those words in a character’s mouth, which is even worse because truly, no one ever uses that phrase in everyday conversation. They say, “the cops” or “the governor” or the “president’ or they mention the person by name or title.

I took time out of from this diatribe to see where the phrase came from, and it’s an old one. Many centuries-old phrases come from Shakespeare or the bible, and this one is no different. Do you care to hazard a guess before I tell you?

If you guessed the bible, you’re right. The first time the phrase showed up in print was in William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament: “Let every soul submit himself unto the authority of the higher powers. There is no power but of God. The powers that be, are ordained of God.”

The King James version is: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1)

It seems to me the common literary usage has come to mean something, if not completely different, then a sideways skew, because in no usage I’ve ever read do “the powers that be” have anything to do with getting their authority from God. Generally, they are given their power by other (secular) powers that be or they take upon themselves whatever power they have.

Another phrase I frequently come across in books are “the authorities,” which basically means the same thing — that the author is too lazy to figure out who those authorities are. I have to confess, I think I might have used “the authorities” once for that very reason: I didn’t know who my particular authorities would be, so I copped out.

Now that I got that off my chest, I can go back to reading the book, though I imagine I will still grit my teeth whenever I come across either “the authorities” or “the powers that be” just as I grit my teeth and bear it whenever I come across authorities or powers that be in real life.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Nothing Important to Say

It seems odd to me that during the four years I blogged every day, I seldom found myself with nothing to say, but now that I blog only when circumstances allow, I have a hard time finding anything to say.

I suppose when one is involved in the discipline of daily blogging, it’s not the words that count so much as the discipline, so I felt free to expound on any topic, no matter how trivial or inane, but now I feel I should have something important to say.

And I don’t.

I could, of course, write about the silly book I read today by a brand-name author, where every character used “proverbial” clichés:

Capture the provesmileyrbial brass ring
Out like the proverbial light
Bite the proverbial bullet
Kick the proverbial bucket
Shining like the proverbial beacon
Deer in the proverbial headlights.

If only one character had used the word “proverbial” to preface every cliché-ridden speech, then I could chalk it up to a character flaw. But when all the characters proverbialized, then it was obviously author laziness. Prefacing a cliché with ‘proverbial” has been used so often it has become a cliché in itself. Even worse, it says that the writer is too lazy to come up with something original, but since she coyly admits she’s using a cliché, it’s okay. But it’s not okay, even if you are a multi-million dollar author.

Or I could write (again) how strange it’s been without my car, which is still being prettified. (He says I almost waited to long to have the body work done, but how was I to know the thing would still be running after 43 years?) I’ve been without my car for so long, it will seem even stranger when I finally get it back. But there’s really nothing else to say about the matter. The car will be done when it’s done, and then I might find something to say. “Hooray,” if nothing else.

I could write about all my recent insights. But . . . um . . . um . . . I can’t think of any.

I certainly don’t want to write about my loneliness. I’ve looked forward to being by myself this weekend with nothing to do, but along with the wonderful aloneness came the not-so-wonderful loneliness. I don’t want to seem as if I am feeling sorry for myself (even if I am) because I only have things to be grateful for. I’m grateful I have a lovely place to stay, even if only for a few more days. I’m grateful I have more than enough to eat. I’m grateful I have dance classes and feet to dance with. I’m grateful I have no debilitating illnesses or painful ailments. I’m grateful I have friends who take pity on my unvehicled state and give me rides.

Most especially, if you’ve read this far, I’m grateful for your indulgence. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something important to say.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.