Friday False Friend 1: Abroad

Quill feather

abroad (adverb) ‘out of the country, in foreign lands’

When this word arrived in Middle English, it soon developed a range of senses, including the modern one, and we find this in Shakespeare, such as at the very end of Macbeth (V.vi.105) when Malcolm expresses his intention to call home ‘our exiled friends abroad’ (i.e. from outside Scotland). But in most of Shakespeare’s uses it has no such connotation. ‘If you do stir abroad, go armed’, says Edmund to Edgar (King Lear, I.ii.167), where the word means simply ‘out of the house’. And this is what Falstaff means when he says to the Lord Chief Justice, ‘I am glad to see your lordship abroad’ (Henry IV Part 2, I.ii.94); they are not in some foreign country. Even more general senses are found. When Derby says to Audley in Edward III (II.ii.21) ‘the king is now abroad’, he means ‘on the move’. And when Curan says to Edmund, ‘you have heard of the news abroad’ (King Lear, II.i.7), he simply means ‘everywhere’.

David Crystal is a writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster, and is the co-author of the new Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary.

Leave a Reply