Posted by: internationalroutier | March 2, 2010

Words from the 17thC

There are a lot of words and phrases we use today that have their origins smack bang in our favourite period of history. And let’s face it, a great whacking lot of these come from Shakespeare. Most of us are familiar with the concept that Shakespeare introduced many phrases and sayings into our venacular. Cruel to be kind (Hamlet), Too much of a good thing (A Midsummer-Night’s Dream), To eat out of house and home (King Henry IV), A rose by any other name (Romeo and Juliet). What is often forgotten is his influence over the use of many single words.

Shakespeare’s vocabulary store was immense, not only because he moulded or extended existing words (using the noun petition as a verb; coining employer from employ; attaching prefixes and suffixes to achieve economy of expression, as in misquote, reword and marketable0, but because he readily and daringly employed hundreds of words which had only recently come into modern English, some of which make their first recorded appearance in his works. These include from Latin and Greek tranquil, obscene, critical, dire, mediate, vast, apostrophe and catastrophe; from existing English stock jaded, foregone and doom; and from the Romance languages alligator, mutiny, pedant and cavalier.
Dictionary of English Down the Ages-
words and phrases born out of historical events great and small
Linda & Roger Flavell

We also owe that infamous pick up line “want to come up and see my etchings?” to the 17thC and the Dutch school of art that became (and remains) so popular. Etch, along with easel (from the Dutch ezel literally meaning donkey) and landscape (landschap originally meaning province, tract of land). Landscape initially referred only to actual paintings and was only later expanded to include natural views over countryside in the early 18thC.

The English Civil War was also a rich vein for new words and phrases that remain with us today. The most recognisable is probably cavalier. At first the usage denoted an accomplished horseman and gentleman and was a term of honour. However the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) adopted it as an insult against their curly locked flamboyant opponents who were seen as eager for war. By the middle of the 17thC cavalier was used for offhand or haughty and has further slid to become synonymous with careless or disdainful.
The 17thC has also taught us to keep our powder dry thanks to Cromwell’s speech to his men a Edgehill, 23 October 1642. “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry”. Cromwell also instructed his portrait painter to depict him warts and all or he would refuse to pay.
English soldier’s who had joined Gustavus Adolphus’ Swedish soldiers picked up the German term plundern, a derivation of the noun plunder meaning lumber and household bits and pieces. As a verb it meant to rob a household of everything, valuable or not. It came into common usage in the English Civil War. William Prynne in 1643 condemned the Royalist soldiers who had “miserably plundered all the Kingdom almost” (The Soveraigne Power of Parliaments)
Other notable 17thC words include propaganda, pineapple, grog and missionary. Don’t you just want to use them all in one sentence? 🙂


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