Q: I’m hoping you can clear up something for me. I was reading a video game review in the New York Times, and the author used the phrase “far be it for me.” I’ve always thought it was “far be it from me.” Please let me know which is the proper usage.
A: The correct expression is, as you say, “far be it from me.” The Oxford English Dictionary says the phrase is “a form of deprecation” equal to “God forbid that (I, etc.).”
The usage is very old, and in fact appears in the first English translation of the Bible, the Wycliffe Bible of 1382. Here’s the quotation, from Genesis 44:17: “Josephe answerde, Fer be it fro me, that Y thus do.”
This is rendered in the King James version as “And he said, God forbid that I should do so.”
The author of the Times review you mention may be spending far too much time playing video games, but we can’t blame the overuse of joysticks for his boo-boo.
A search of the Times archive finds 15 other examples since 1986 – in the national, arts, opinion, style, and sports sections.
To be fair, though, scores of other Times writers (or their editors) got it right during that time.