middle english

Wordy…Thursday – “Livelong day”

Tonight’s post is a Wordy Wednesday in disguise. As much as I can pretend, Wordy Thursday just doesn’t have that same ring to it *sigh*. Anyway, onward to our phrase this week…Livelong Day! Meaning ‘whole’ or ‘entire’, livelong is an adjective that emphasizes a slow (or seemingly slow) and tedious passage of time. Ever have a day at work that seems to drag on forever? To work a livelong day is to work an entire day, or what feels like an entire day.

Shakespeare uses the phrase at the beginning of Julius Caesar. Two tribunes, Marullus and Flavius, converse with Roman citizens in the street. When a commoner tells them of his plans to celebrate Caesar’s triumph, Marullus reprimands him, saying that he does a disservice to Pompey by rejoicing in Caesar’s name:

O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climb’d up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome.
(I. i. 38-44)

Marullus’s speech is expressive, as he tries to persuade the commoner to side with Pompey. His dialogue lifts up Pompey’s reign and importance over Caesar’s. And the phrase, ‘livelong day’, adds to the hyperbole of his speech.

The word’s etymology goes back to the Middle English,
lefe longe (dear long), where it originally had a more emotional connotation. The earliest timemention of the word can be found in several Middle English texts, such as The Simonie, a poem dating back to the 1300s:

“Mak a present to the den ther thu thenkest to dwelle,
And have leve longe i-nouh to serve the fend of helle…”

A modern use of the word is found in the iconic American folk song, ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ (circa 1894):

“I’ve been working on the railroad
All the live-long day.
I’ve been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away.”

The labour that went into building the U.S. railway system really did require long, grueling hours that went on for livelong days. More like livelong years!

~ by Vineeta

A Dictionary of True Etymologies – Adrian Room
Oxford English Dictionary – http://www.oed.com/
Open Source Shakespeare (Julius Caesar) – http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org
Trains Across The Continent: North American Railroad History – Rudolph Daniels
Image by Toni Verdú Carbó – http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2283676770


Wordy Wednesday – “If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep”

As Romeo & Juliet has its first performance this week at Shakespeare in Action, I felt it only apt that our Word Wednesday come from its pages. I’ve always loved Romeo’s hope at the beginning of this scene as we all know what comes next will pain him even further. (And for those who don’t, I’ve not spoiled it here for you. Go read!)

The quote in particular I’ve chosen for us to look at today includes the word “presage”. Here it is in context:

Act V Scene I

Romeo  “If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,

My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:”

Presage, as the context of Romeo’s line can attest to, is the presence of foretelling or intuition about the future. Romeo’s hope is that he can trust his dreams; they were full of joy and he hopes the news he is about to receive will be too. Shakespeare, ever the dramatist, however, soon shatters Romeo’s hopes and you know the rest.

The word presage is a Middle English word, first coined in the 14th Century, but has its roots in the Latin praesagium, from praesagus (having a foreboding), from prae- + sagus (prophetic). Sagium and Sagus in these Latin terms point us toward the Sage, who was a figure of mythic ability who could tell the future. In fact, we could call the three Witches at the beginning of Macbeth Sages, as they foreshadow the events to come. Foreshadowing in its literary use is a device used to suggest what might happen in the future. Usually authors and playwrights will fulfill these foretellings as it brings the narrative full circle. It also usually creates a sense of foreboding for the audience as they await the story to unfold. Ooo!

Tune in next week for more wordy wonders, Shakes.