Anonymous said: Stop fucking tagging everything with Old English. The Bard wrote in Early Modern English and people looking for true Old English have to put up with you in the tag. Knock it off

Broseidon, I haven’t updated this blog in over a year, but the amount of stupid in your question has prompted me to update.

Yes. Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English. Anyone with even a passing interest in linguistics figures this one out. I am aware there’s a difference between Fand þa ðær inne æþelinga gedriht swefan æfter symble; sorge ne cuðon, wonsceaft wera (Beowulf, what up) and More of your conversation would infect my brain (Coriolanus, picked because you are obnoxious).

I tagged things with Old English when the words I was showcasing came from Anglo-Saxon. Laughter, for instance, comes from an Old English word, hlæhhan. The “worth” in money’s worth comes from an Old English word, weorð.

So I suggest you actually read the things you’re finding while browsing that tag, and perhaps look at the dates when things were posted before directing your ire at a blog that’s been inactive largely since April of 2012.

Anonymous said: Hello, I really like your blog. It's very interesting to learn about word etymologies and your information seems both fun and thorough. Do you ever plan on updating again, or have you moved on to something else? Just curious.

Hi! Ugh, I know, I’m the absolute worst at updating. I stopped in May because I had final exams and graduation, then I was finishing writing my book, and then I was concentrating on finding work. But I’m employed now — I’m moving into my new place today, actually — and I really do want to start updating again soon, I enjoy this blog immensely.

I’m sorry I haven’t been on top of things, and I really do appreciate all the patience you guys have. I promise I’ll be back soon.

  • romeo: hey i just met you.
  • romeo: and this is crazy.
  • romeo: but i saw you at your dad's party that i wasn't supposed to attend and i thought you were pretty cute so i followed you and we kissed but then your nanny called you away and i found out you were a capulet and got bummed so i sneaked into your back yard in the middle of the night and climbed your balcony uninvited to profess my undying love after an hour even though i wanted to bone rosaline like two scenes ago.
  • romeo: so marry me maybe.


Where it’s found: The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene I

How it’s used:

SALARINO: Now, by two-headed Janus,
Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time:
Some that will evermore peep through their eyes
And laugh like parrots at a bag-piper,
And other of such vinegar aspect
That they’ll not show their teeth in way of smile,
Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.

Where it comes from: I find it very… laughable that one of Shakespeare’s problem plays coined the term laughable. (What, you don’t come here for my incredibly lame puns? I am agog, aghast, and other sorts of fancy words!)

With that out of the way, laughable is a compound, made up of two parts: laugh and the prefix -able.

Laugh is Old English, and was originally onomatopoetic. The Anglo-Saxon word for laugh was hlæhhan. This is related to a number of other Germanic words that look like someone just hit their keyboard in an attempt to coin a word. The pronunciation was originally lack, but here we are with our yuck-yuck word laff. [source]

-able, on the other hand, came to us from the Romans; Latin had two suffixes for words that meant “a capacity to do,” -ibilis and -abilis. Interestingly enough, in English native words get tagged with the suffix -able (hence, laughable), while more obviously Latin words get stuck with -ible (e.g., horrible, crucible, etc.) [source]


Where it’s found: As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

How it’s used:

JACQUES: Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Where it comes from: This particular monologue is also where English gained the word puking. It’s a favorite of mine, and probably one of Shakespeare’s most famous.

Eventful was definitively a Shakespeare word; there’s no record of it being used other than in As You Like It until it cropped up in the dictionary. It comes from two words (obviously), event and the suffix -ful.

Event meandered its way into English from Middle French and Latin, where the word was eventus. It meant “an occurrence or accident” but also “fortune” and “fate.” It’s a stem of the word evenire, “to come out, happen, or result,” which is also the root of the word venue. [source]

The suffix -ful is, surprisingly or not, derived from the word full. It’s Old English, where it meant “completely, perfect, entire, utter,” and also “full.” It’s Indo-European roots also means the word is related to the word plenary. [source]


Where it’s found: Henry VI, Part 3, Act I, Scene I

How it’s used:

CLIFFORD: Urge it no more; lest that, instead of words,
I send thee, Warwick, such a messenger
As shall revenge his death before I stir.

WARWICK: Poor Clifford! how I scorn his worthless threats!

Where it comes from: Despite some scholar’s opinions on Henry VI (not the most interesting of Shakespeare’s plays), it’s certainly not a worthless play, because it gave us… well, the word worthless.

I’ve actually covered the origins of both parts of this word before. Worthless is made up of two parts (bonus points if you can guess what they are), so this will mostly just be review. But here we are anyway:

Worth comes from the other granddaddy of English, Anglo-Saxon. They had a word, weorð, which meant “equal in value to.” It’s (probably) descended from an Indo-European form that is also the root of the word versus. [source]

[Less] means lacking, and it comes from Old English -leas. Other Germanic languages have similar terms (-loos in Dutch, -los in German, etc.) [source]

Review day is review day. And also Tuesday.


Where it’s found: “A Lover’s Complaint”

How it’s used:

Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne,
Which on it had conceited characters,
Laundering the silken figures in the brine
That season’d woe had pelleted in tears,
And often reading what contents it bears;
As often shrieking undistinguish’d woe,
In clamours of all size, both high and low.

Where it comes from: I’ve covered a lot of Shakespeare’s plays on this blog, but never his poetry. Fortunately, he was just as prolific in his poems as he was in his scripts, and so we have our first example from a poem: launder.

Launder is actually a contraction of the word lavender, which in French (as lavandier) meant “washer” and not the flower. The French stole the word from Latin, lavandria, ultimately coming from the word lavare, “to wash.” So the word launder is related to the word lave. The sense of “money laundering” didn’t arise until the 1960s. [source]

"The drop of ink Shakespeare quilled to write the word starling blotted out the sky of a continent he never visited."

Stephen Marche, How Shakespeare Changed Everything

This is in regards to the rather ill-considered attempt by Eugene Schieffelin to bring every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to the United States. Notoriously, the sixty starlings he introduced in 1891 ballooned to a population of over 200 million by today.

Tags: Shakespeare

"Most scholars agree that [Shakespeare] coined somewhere in the vicinity of seventeen hundred words — far more than any other writer in any language. It’s an even more astonishing feat when you consider that nearly 10 percent of Shakespeare’s vocabulary of twenty thousand terms was new to him and to his audience. In a sense, he’s easier to understand now, because we are familiar with words like farmhouse and eyeball and softhearted and watchdog. We’ve lost an entire dimension of the original Shakespeare experience. Imagine going to a new play and hearing for the first time sanctimonious or lackluster or fashionable. That freshness is lost to our ears."

Stephen Marche, How Shakespeare Changed Everything

I’ve covered the origins of some of those words before.

Tags: Shakespeare


Where it’s found: Cymbeline, Act III, Scene III

How it’s used:

ARVIRAGUS: What should we speak of
When we are old as you? when we shall hear
The rain and wind beat dark December, how,
In this our pinching cave, shall we discourse
The freezing hours away?

Where it comes from: It’s cold out today where I am, despite the fact that it’s almost May, so this feels like an appropriate Shakespeare Word of the Day.

So. Freezing. It’s Old English, and it comes from the word freosan, which meant “turn to ice.” Like most Old English words, it has cousins in other Germanic languages, ultimately going all the way back to proto-Indo-European. The root for freezing is, weirdly enough, used in some languages for the word “to burn.” So while Sanskrit and Latin had words like prusva and pruina for “hoarfrost,” they had very similar words for burning things. (Sanskrit had prustah for “burnt,” and Latin had pruna, for “a live coal.”) [source]