Friday False Friends 6: revolting

Quill feather

revolting (adjective) ‘repulsive, disgusting’

It is the modern meaning which sometimes causes a giggle when Cardinal Pandulph describes King John as a ‘revolting son’ to his mother the Church (KJ III.i.257) or the Lieutenant talks to Suffolk about ‘the false revolting Normans’ (2H6 IV.i.87). In all Shakespearian cases the meaning is different: ‘rebellious, mutinous, insurgent’. The word can be used with inanimate nouns, too. Bedford appeals to comets to ‘ scourge the bad revolting stars / That have consented unto Henry’s death’ (1H6 I.i.4), and Richard hopes that his tears will ‘make a dearth in this revolting land’ (R2 III.iii.163). Incidentally, Shakespeare’s is the first recorded usage of this word, as also of the related word revolted, whose senses include rebellious (as in ‘revolted faction’, R2 II.ii.57), faithless (‘revolted wives’, MW III.ii.35) and delinquent (‘revolted tapsters’, 1H4 IV.ii.28).

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

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