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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Friday False Friends 20: fearful

fearful (adjective) ‘causing fear; dreadful, terrible’ Fearful is one of those interesting words where two opposed senses came into the language at about the same time. In addition to its causative sense, which is the dominant one today, there was also a subjective sense, where the fear comes from within the person (‘full of fear’) […]

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Friday False Friends 19: wink

wink (verb) ‘close and open one eye, suggesting a meaning’ In modern usage, the wink is always significant, suggesting that the winker is aware of a secret, a joke, or some sort of impropriety. Although this usage was possible in Shakespeare’s day (‘I will wink on her to consent’, says Burgundy to Henry, of Princess […]

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Friday False Friends 18: keen

keen (adjective) ‘eager, ardent, intense’ (especially in UK) Most of the original senses of this word (‘wise, brave, mighty, fierce’) had disappeared from English by Shakespeare’s time. But the notion of sharpness was common, used especially with reference to weapons, and also metaphorically to talk about winds, thoughts, words, and senses, where it expressed such […]

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Friday False Friends 17: fact

fact (noun) ‘actuality, datum of experience’ This word arrived in the language in the 16th century, and quickly developed a range of senses. The one which has survived is ‘actuality’, but in Early Modern English other senses were more dominant. The neutral idea of ‘something done’ gained both positive and negative associations: a noble thing […]

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