I was in a humour the other day – shall I go as far to say in a disposition fitting our dear Prince of Denmark? And in attempts to divert myself, I decided to remove myself from the world for a few hours and read Love’s Labour’s Lost. What a feast of words this play is! The tripping speeches, the punning jests, the satire of academia: it is marvelously comic.
And there is one word that always gets me, that stops my reading cold as I trip over it time and time again. If you are familiar with the play you know the one I mean.
I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;
for thou art not so long by the head as
honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier
swallowed than a flap-dragon. (V.i)
Of course I am referring to the word “flap-dragon.” Originally “flap-dragon” was a game in which players “catch raisins out of burning brandy and, extinguishing them by closing the mouth, eat them” (OED). Shakespeare is reportedly the first to turn this into a noun, signifying the flaming raisin itself. in these lines, Costard is saying to Moth that because he is so small he is easier to swallow than a flaming raisin.
So the next time you are asked to do something difficult, respond: “it would be easier to swallow a flap-dragon.”
What? Oh yes, I suppose I should give a nod to honorificabilitudinitatibus. It comes to us through Latin and roughly translates to “a state to be able to receive honours.” it is here used in an absurd form (the dative/ablative plural portmanteau for those playing the Latin game) for the purpose of comedy. It is meant to sound ridiculous and it does. Oddly enough, it became fairly popular following the first appearance of Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Honorificabilitudinitatibus is also the longest word that appears in an English text that does not have consecutively repeating letters. Knowing this makes you in honorificabilitudinitatibus – but saying you are such is probably harder to swallow than a flap-dragon.
And if, good reader, you are in the mood for a linguistic feast look no further than Love’s Labour’s Lost.