Friday False Friends 15: quick

Quill feather

quick (adjective) ‘rapid, swift’

The modern meaning was well established by Shakespeare’s time, but also common in the plays and poems are meanings which are now either obsolete or archaic. The sense of ’living, full of life’ is there when Anne rejects the thought of marrying Dr Caius: ‘I had rather be set quick i’th’earth, / And bowled to death with turnips’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor, III.iv.84) – buried up to my neck, she means. And this is the sense used adverbially when Hamlet compares his love of Ophelia to that of Laertes: ‘Be buried quick with her, and so will I’ (Hamlet, V.i.275). A related meaning is ‘lively’, ‘animated’, ‘vivacious’, often heard when people talk about somebody’s character. The Constable refers to the ‘quick blood’ of the French (Henry V, III.v.21); Brutus talks about Antony’s ‘quick spirit’ (Julius Caesar, I.ii.29) and Casca’s ‘quick mettle’ (I.ii.293); Nestor describes Cressida as ‘a woman of quick sense’ (Troilus and Cressida, IV.v.54); Emilia describes Arcite as having a ‘quick sweetness’ (Two Noble Kinsman, IV.ii.13); and Richard describes the young York as ‘bold, quick’ (Richard III, III.i.155).

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