Shakespearian Cats and Dogs

Last time I blogged I mentioned that it was pouring, tipping, pelting, chucking down, skies opening, raining like a cow relieving itself, here at the UKTS office. Yes, that last one is a translation of a genuine French colloquialism.

Some might even say it was raining cats and dogs, and if you lived as far back as the 16th century there would have been polecats involved as well. No one is quite sure of the origin of all these animals falling from the sky, but it’s likely that someone wrote the phrase in a play at some point and it just caught on.

A century on, and Shakespeare was making a name for himself doing just that – inventing new words that caught on, that is, not falling out of the sky. It’s said that over 1,700 of our modern English words can be attributed to his creativity, including bloodstained, drugged and green-eyed. He must have been having a bad day.

A recent transcription also taught me that Shakespeare brought into common use the phrase ‘dead as a doornail’. Why the poor doornail was used for that particular analogy rather than, say, the more appropriate coffin nail, I have no idea.

His best legacy as far as I’m concerned though were his fabulous insults. From lily-liver’d to clay-brained to obscene greasy tallow-catch, the man knew how to sting. My favourite though is from Henry IV Part 1You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!”

I wonder if they had transcription services back then? I’d love to have taken dictation from Shakespeare!

For now, God ye good-morrow,

Rachel and the UKTS Team

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