Old Saws, Slang and Shakespeare

The most fascinating thing about studying Shakespeare, first in high school (where I had no choice) and then in college (where I actually wanted to do this), was his use of slang.

I was, and remain, amazed at how much of the slang and adages Shakespeare used to long ago are still alive in our vernacular today. I don’t know which expressions originated with good ol’ Bill, but finding these nuggets in the midst of other, often arcane expressions, is great fun.

Many slang expressions and adages, which are also called “old saws,” fall out of fashion in the natural ebb and flow of our living language. Slang appears and disappears from common usage, often with no rhyme or reason.

While most readers recognize the phrase, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio” (even though many add well after him), or “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” how many know that the phrase, “All of a sudden” was coined by Shakespeare?

Many book and movie titles also borrow from Shakespeare. The Winter of Our Discontent, Band of Brothers (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”), The Dogs of War (“cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”) and others take advantage of Shakespeare’s innovative and clever use of language.

Besides, it’s far easier to summon an old saw like one fell swoop than to come up with a new one.

While we may laugh at some of the slang we used in the past, like groovy, these outmoded words and expressions can be useful when you are writing a story set in that timeframe. A novel or short story with a 60’s setting is more believable when you sprinkle some of that era’s slang, especially slang no one uses anymore.

I wonder what words and expressions coined in our lifetime will still be in use 200 years from now.

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3 responses to “Old Saws, Slang and Shakespeare

  1. Writing a blog post about Smashwords. I’m probably going to go with them when my novella is ready for the world to see.

  2. Outstanding post, I believe blog owners should learn a lot from this site its really user pleasant. So much good information on here :D.

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