Friday False Friends 28: careful

careful (adjective) ‘taking care, showing care’ The original sense dates from Old English – ‘full of care’ – and this is the primary sense in Shakespeare. It means ‘anxious, worried’ when Queen Isabel says of York: ‘full of careful business are his looks! (Richard II, II.ii.75), when Wolsey describes Buckingham’s Surveyor as a ‘careful subject’ […]

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Friday False Friends 27: adventure

adventure (noun) ‘dangerous, risky, or exciting undertaking’ The modern meanings were around in Shakespeare’s time, but lacking the modern dramatic nuance we find when referring to adventure comics, adventure stories, and the like. Most Shakespearian uses have a more general sense of ‘venture, enterprise’ or the outcome of a venture. When Hotspur talks of ‘the […]

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Friday False Friends 26: dogged

dogged (adj.) ‘tenacious, persistent’ The word has rather a nice sound today: anyone who is doing something ‘doggedly’ is surely to be praised for not giving up. But this sense has been around only since the mid-18th century. The original use, from the 14th century, expressed the fiercer canine qualities. Shakespeare uses the word just […]

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Friday False Friends 25: want

want (verb) ‘desire, wish, need, require’ Most of the meanings of want found in Shakespeare are still in use today; but there is an inevitable tendency to read in the primary modern meaning – the positive sense of ‘desire’ – in contexts where it does not work. It is the negative sense, of ‘lack, be […]

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Friday False Friends 24: pelting

pelting (adjective) ‘beating, lashing’ Today, pelting is a term we use chiefly of the weather – and especially in relation to forceful rain and hail. It is a usage that emerged by the beginning of the 18th-century. In Shakespeare’s time the meaning was very different: pelting – probably from a different etymological source – meant […]

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Friday False Friends 23: defend

defend (verb) ‘protect, keep safe, support’ The sense of ‘guarding from attack’ goes right back to early medieval times; but it grew up alongside another, more active sense of ‘warding off an attack’, which has not survived today. It was active in Shakespeare’s time, though, especially conveying the notion of divine prohibition. Several characters in […]

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Friday False Friends 22: car

car (noun) ‘motor-car, (US) also ‘train carriage or tram’ The modern vehicular senses date from the 19th-century, so ‘mechanical’ nuances must be carefully avoided whenever we hear the word in Shakespeare. When the word first came into the language, from Latin via French in the 14th century, it had a wide range of usage, referring […]

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Friday False Friends 21: diet

diet (verb) ‘regulate food intake with health in mind’ The usual connotations of dieting, these days, relate to losing weight. Not so, in Shakespeare’s time. Indeed, most uses of the verb diet then are to do with feeding someone up to a satisfactory level. This ‘fattening’ sense is required when Alençon says, of the English, […]

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