The A-B-C’s of Shakespeare

Have you ever wanted to dress up your language, just a bit? Shakespeare did it, and many of his words and phrases have made their home in today’s English language. Here are just a few, for each letter of the alphabet:

All that glitters is not gold (from The Merchant of Venice)
Bated breath (from The Merchant of Venice)
Cold comfort (from The Taming of the Shrew and King John)
Dead as a doornail (from Henry VI)
Elbow room (from King John)
Fancy-free (from Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Good riddance (from Trolius and Cressida)
Heart of gold (from Henry V)
It was Greek to me (from Julius Caesar)
Jealousy is the green-eyed monster (from Othello)
Knock knock! Who’s there? (from Macbeth)
Love is blind (from Merchant of Venice)
Make a virtue of necessity (from The Two Gentlemen of Verona)
Not slept one wink (from Cymbeline)
Own flesh and blood (from Hamlet)
Play fast and loose (from King John)
Quality of mercy is not strained (from The Merchant of Venice)
Rhyme nor reason (from Comedy of Errors)
Spotless reputation (from Richard II)
Too much of a good thing (from As You Like It)
Up in arms (from Henry V)
Vanish into thin air (from Othello)
What’s done is done (from Macbeth)

Fie! I cannot find phrases that start with X, Y, and Z. Do you take me for a sponge? (from Hamlet…See more Shakespearean insult phrases).

Find more phrases and words penned by Shakespeare online. You’ll also view more at The Phrase Finder. He invented a “generous” (one of his words) number of “zany” (yep, another one of his words) words that still exist in today’s English, too. You can find them at Words Shakespeare Invented and the William Shakespeare Elizabethan Dictionary.

You’ll want to know the meanings of these words if you’d like to praise your loved one or insult your enemy. Go to the William Shakespeare Dictionary to find the meanings of all his wordy inventions. Or, if you just need an insult or two, take a shortcut and visit the Shakespeare Insult Kit.

Shakespeare’s words, phrases and insults are perfect if you’re wishing to speak like a pirate (see the last post), are attending a Renaissance Faire, or looking for a perfect way to woo to your sweetie. And there’s even a Talk Like Shakespeare Day! (April 23rd). Check out their “how to talk like Shakespeare” list. Just 10 instructions:

1. Instead of you, say thou. Instead of y’all, say thee.
2. Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
3. Men are Sirrah, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin.
4. Instead of cursing, try calling your tormenters jackanapes or canker-blossoms or poisonous bunch-back’d toads. (see the Shakespearean insult links above)
5. Don’t waste time saying “it,” just use the letter “t” (’tis, t’will, I’ll do’t).
6. Verse for lovers, prose for ruffians, songs for clowns.
7. When in doubt, add the letters “eth” to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth).
8. To add weight to your opinions, try starting them with methinks, mayhaps, in sooth or wherefore.
9. When wooing ladies: try comparing her to a summer’s day. If that fails, say “Get thee to a nunnery!”
10. When wooing lads: try dressing up like a man. If that fails, throw him in the Tower, banish his friends and claim the throne.

Time for a video lesson? The lads from the Improvised Shakespeare Company offer you their tips:

The Improvised Shakespeare Company Teach You How to Talk Like Shakespeare

Wouldst thou have a comment? Prithee post it below….

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11 Responses to The A-B-C’s of Shakespeare

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