wordy wednesday

Wordy Wednesday-“Kill With Kindness”

This week’s wordy Wednesday is “to kill with kindness”, uttered by Petrucio, in his speech revealing how he plans to tame Kate’s shrewish nature:

And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,

And with the clamor keep her still awake.

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.

Taming Of The Shrew: act 4, scene 1

In this speech Petrucio is revealing how he plans to tame Kate’s shrewish nature and make her into an obedient wife. He claims that the only way to make her truly obedient and get rid of her wild and feisty nature is to kill a wife with kindness. From Petrucio’s point of view “killing with kindness” involves depriving Kate of food and sleep for a period of time, until she willingly gives in to being his obedient wife.

According to dictionary.com killing with kindness is any action that involves overwhelming someone with mistaken or excessive kindness. This expression originated as a reference to something that fond apes do to their young: crushing them to death in a hug and was a proverb by the mid 1500s.

The usage of the phrase in Taming Of The Shrew is fascinating because of its ties to the word’s origins. Petrucio is like the ape crushing its young through an ignorantly and overwhelmingly aggressive act that he claims is an act of love. The usage of ‘kill with kindness’ strays away from our traditional notions of what overwhelming an individual with mistaken or excessive kindness really is. The one question we’re left with is the following: is this an excessive and mistaken act of kindness or is it straight-forward aggression and cruelty?

Wordy Wednesday!

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is ‘Band of Brothers’.  This famous phrase was coined by Shakespeare in 1599 and was first heard in his theatrical production of Henry V – which was one of the opening productions performed in the newly built Globe Theatre.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Henry V [IV. iii. 2291 – 2302]

Henry V delivers this rousing speech to his men just before the Battle of Agincourt.  Along with his “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech [Henry V, III. i. 1092], these famous lines capture the heart of the play and Shakespeare’s vision of the warrior King.


The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 went down in history as one of England’s most famous victories and Henry V’s crowning glory.  The English army was outnumbered more than four to one by the French and defeat seemed almost inevitable.  However, due in no small part to the unrelenting archers with their ferocious longbows driving the enemy back, the English managed to defeat the vast French force. England’s improbable odds before the battle give Henry’s impassioned words even more resonance.  Shakespeare endows his Henry V with the powerful skill of being able to stir the hearts of his men and inspire and rouse them into fighting bravely and fearlessly for him despite the odds.  Just like Joan of Arc’s battle cry to the French soldiers who later fight the army of Henry VI (Henry V’s son) – they were determined to “fight till the last gasp”. [Henry VI P I, I. ii. 326]


Henry proclaims that at that moment in time, they are all equals and they will stand shoulder to shoulder and fight as brothers.  They will fight and bleed together and many of them will die together.  This blood bond ties them together as family, and on this day they do not fight as kings, lords or foot soldiers, but as men, as equals and as brothers.


This notion of comradeship and blood bonds during combat is transcendental.   Lord Nelson evoked this powerful wartime bond in his speech after the Battle of the Nile, referring to his Sea Captains as a ‘band of brothers’. There are copious examples throughout history of soldiers fighting and dying together as a ‘band of brothers’.  One such example is that of the 101st Airborne East Company during World War II.  This unit fought fearlessly and heroically from the Normandy invasion through to the end of the war; united by the blood spilt on the battle field and the strength of the lifelong bonds they had forged.  Their story was immortalized in the HBO series, aptly named ‘Band of Brothers’.


An evolution of this is seen in Game of Thrones through the Dothraki blood riders fighting side by side with Khal Drogo and then Daenerys’ riders.  Daenerys calls these warriors “blood of my blood” as they have pledged their lives to her and their blood is now the blood of their Khaleesi.


I was lucky enough to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry V twice during their two year/eight play History Cycle in 2007/2008.  It was the greatest theatrical spectacle I have ever seen, and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Henry was passionate, rousing and utterly spellbinding.  Such is the power of Shakespeare’s stirring words in Henry V, that Streatfeild delivered his “Once more unto the breach” speech in the dressing room of the English rugby team, to rouse and inspire them before they stepped onto the field to do battle with the French team to fight for the glory of the Six Nations Championship in 2007.  An inspired England won the battle on the day; beating the highly favoured French team – (although France were ultimately victorious clinching the title against Scotland the next week).  This demonstrates the immense power and potency Shakespeare’s texts still wield today and how they have infused nearly every facet of our contemporary society.

henry v pic

By Linda Nicoll


BritishBattles.com – ‘The Battle of Agincourt’, 2002 – 2013. Chalfont Web. http://www.britishbattles.com/100-years-war/agincourt.htm [Accessed 15 May 2013]

British Library – ‘Treasures in Full ~ Shakespeare in Quarto – Henry V Early Performances’. 2013 London. http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/henry5.html [Accessed 15 May 2013]

Game of Thrones Wiki – ‘Bloodriders – Rakharo’. 2013 Wikia. http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Rakharo [Accessed 15 May 2013]

IMDb – ‘Band of Brothers’. 1990 – 2013 IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185906/ [Accessed 15 May 2013]

In depth Info – ‘Band of Brothers in literature and history’. Copyright 2005 – 2013. W. J. Rayment.  http://www.indepthinfo.com/band-of-brothers/ [Accessed 15 May 2013]

Open Source Shakespeare – ‘Play Search’, 2013 George Mason University. http://www.opensourceshakespeare.com/views/plays/plays.php

Royal Shakespeare Company – ‘Henry V Programme – Geoffrey Streatfeild as Henry V’. 2007, Dir. Michael Boyd – RSC Stratford upon Avon and The Roundhouse Theatre London, England.

Suite 101 – ‘Horatio Nelson and his Band of Brothers’, 1996 – 2013 Suite101. http://suite101.com/article/horatio-nelson-and-his-band-of-brothers-a221354 [Accessed 15 May 2013]




Wordy Wednesday!

Today’s Wordy Wednesday is the phrase the ‘truth will out’.


Nay, indeed, if you had your eyes, you might fail of
the knowing me: it is a wise father that knows his
own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of
your son: give me your blessing: truth will come
to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son
may, but at the length truth will out.

The Merchant of Venice [II. ii. 640-45]


Launcelot Gobbo is telling Old Gobbo not to worry, as the truth will surely be discovered in the end. He shortens his previous assertion ‘the truth will come to light’ with an even more emphatic declaration of certainty – ‘the truth will out’.  In this scene, however, Launcelot can afford to proclaim with such a level of certainty that the truth about Old Gobbo’s son will soon be uncovered, as he is in fact that very son – fooling his blind father who did not recognize his voice.


O heavens, this is my true-begotten father!
who, being more than sand-blind, high-gravel blind,
knows me not: I will try confusions with him.

The Merchant of Venice [II. ii. 600-02]


The phrase ‘the truth will out’ had been in use in England from the Fifteenth Century and appeared in print when The Merchant of Venice was first published in the First Quarto in 1600. Dictionary.com defines the phrase as meaning: ‘One way or another, in spite of all efforts to conceal it, the truth will come to be known’. A related idiomatic phrase with similar connotations is ‘murder will out’.  The Dictionary.com definition for this phrase is: ‘Crime or wrongdoing will eventually be discovered and punished as certain news cannot be suppressed’. This expression had already appeared in Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale:  “Murder will out that we see day by day.” [Circa 1390]


The phrase ‘the truth will out’ has travelled from the mouth of the actor playing Launcelot Gobbo on ‘The Theatre’ stage during the first performances of The Merchant of Venice in 1598, to being uttered by Mark Williams – playing Arthur Weasley in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.


“As the Muggles say, truth will out”

– declares Arthur Weasley, as he leads Harry down to the Ministry of Magic’s underage wizardry hearing.

By Linda Nicoll




The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy – Third Edition. 2005 Houghton Mifflin Company

The British Library: ‘Shakespeare in Quarto’ – The Merchant of Venice Early Performances and Publication. London 2013 http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/merchantbibs.html [Accessed 17 April 2013]

Open Source Shakespeare: ‘The Merchant of Venice’ George Mason University 2013 http://www.opensourceshakespeare.com/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=merchantvenice&Act=2&Scene=2&Scope=scene [Accessed 17 April 2013]

Dictionary.com: ‘Cultural Dictionary’ 2013 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/truth+will+out [Accessed 17 April 2013]

Dictionary.com: ‘Cultural Dictionary’ 2013 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/murder%20will%20out [Accessed 17 April 2013]

The English Club: ‘Reference – Sayings’ 2013 http://www.englishclub.com/ref/esl/Sayings/Quizzes/Truth/Truth_will_out_942.htm [Accessed 17 April 2013]

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dir. David Yates) Warner Bros. 2007 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0373889/ [Accessed 17 April 2013]


Wordy Wednesday – “Heart of hearts”


Hello everyone, and welcome to the next Wordy Wednesday! This week’s theme is “heart of hearts” from Hamlet. Roll the clip!

“and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.”

 Hamlet, III.ii

In this scene Hamlet has finally orchestrated a trap that, in his view, will leave no doubt as to his uncle Claudius’ guilt in the untimely death of his (Hamlet’s) father. For those of you who have studied Hamlet, you will remember that this trap was a play in which a jealous brother resorts to murder in order to claim the rightful place, and wife of his elder brother. Guilt stricken at watching a performance of the very acts he himself committed, Claudius leaves the audience, confirming Hamlet’s suspicions.

  In this particular quote, Hamlet is complimenting his level-headed friend Horatio for his ability to remain objective. Hamlet even goes so far as to say that Horatio is in his “heart’s core” or his “heart of heart.”  Now according to the free dictionary (a great source, I know) to be in one’s “Heart of Hearts” is to be “In the seat of one’s truest feelings.” In other words, Hamlet trusts Horatio so completely that he is willing to share with him all his secrets and, more importantly, his dark suspicions.

Do you find there is someone you can trust completely, dear readers?

By Johnathan C.

Image: http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/thumblarge_242/1204289409216bKf.jpg

Wordy Wednesday!

Today’s Wordy Wednesday is the phrase “Up in arms”.
The phrase can be found in two of Shakespeare’s History Plays, which first appeared in print in the 1590s.

In both History Plays the phrase refers to the literal meaning of the term – to take up arms with the intent to use them in battle. To be ‘in arms’ referred to soldiers being equipped for combat; the extension of ‘up in arms’ implies they are not only equipped with weaponry, they are also in a state of readiness to fight.

March on, march on, since we are up in arms;

If not to fight with foreign enemies

Yet to beat down these rebels here at home

 Richard III [IV. iv. 3361-63]

Here the term is used in its most literal sense.  In this extract Richard III is declaring that as they are all armed and equipped – they are ready to march into battle to quell the rebels.

The princely Warwick, and the Nevils all,

Whose dreadful swords were never drawn in vain,

As hating thee, are rising up in arms:

And now the house of York, thrust from the crown

By shameful murder of a guiltless king

And lofty proud encroaching tyranny,

Burns with revenging fire; whose helpful colours

Advance our half-faced sun, striving to shine,

Under the which is writ ‘Invitis nubibus’

The commons here in Kent are up in arms:

Henry VI Part II: [IV. i. 2247-56]

In this Henry VI Part II extract, The Captain is taunting his captive, The Earl of Suffolk, and refers to Warwick and the Nevils as ‘rising up in arms’. They are rallying for battle and arming themselves in a state of rebellion and protestation.  This foreshadows the figurative use of the phrase, which first appeared in the 1700s – to be ‘up in arms’ over a particular situation in a state of protest.

The Phrase Finder classifies the contemporary meaning of the phrase ‘up in arms’ to be ‘roused or incensed’.

Today the modern usage of the phrase to be ‘up in arms’ over a current situation implies outrage and indignant protest. It is most commonly used to mean that a group are ‘roused’ or ‘incensed’ to the point of which they are willing to take action and stand up for their cause.  Of course, a population being ‘up in arms’ can still denote an armed rebellion in the literal sense. [Dictionary.com]

“The workers are ‘up in arms’ over the proposed pay cuts”.  The fact that they are ‘up in arms’ indicates they are not just aggrieved; they are also ready to take action.

An interesting aside about the historical usage of the phrase ‘in arms’ is not only would the knights be bearing arms as in weaponry, they would also be bearing a crest of arms on their armour.  Heraldic arms or a family’s ‘Coat of Arms’ was an integral component of organising feudal battles as the particular crest adorning soldiers’ armour denoted who their liege Lord was and what side they were fighting for.

George R.R. Martin’s epic world in A Game of Thrones recreates this heraldic tradition.  Each house has their individual ‘Crest of Arms’ and motto.  While House Stark has the direwolf as their sigil along with the words “Winter is coming”, the Lannister lion is their House’s sigil with the motto “Hear me roar”.


As I am from Scottish decent, my last name ‘Nicoll’ is from the Scottish clan MacLeod and our motto is ‘Hold fast’.


By Linda Nicoll


The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.Fourth Edition. 
Copyright 2007. Published by McGraw Hill.

The Free Dictionary, ‘Idioms’, 2013: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/up+in+arms [Accessed 20 March 2013]

Dictionary.com, ‘References’, 2013: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/up+in+arms [Accessed 20 March 2013]

The Phrase Finder, ‘Meanings, 2013: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/up-in-arms.html [Accessed 20 March 2013]

Musee Missisquoi Musuem, ‘Family History’, 2013, http://www.museemissisquoi.ca/index.html [Accessed 20 March 2013]

HBO, A Game of Thrones, ‘Sigils’, 2013, http://www.hbo.com [Accessed 20 March 2013]

Wordy Wednesday – “Fair play”

Traditional dueling salutes – because it’s only fair to stab somebody to death if you’ve both done a traditional dance first and agreed not to hide behind trees during the fight.

Philip the Bastard: According to the fair play of the world,
Let me have audience; I am sent to speak:
My holy lord of Milan, from the king
I come, to learn how you have dealt for him[…]
King John (V.ii.2400-5)


Troilus: Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you,
Which better fits a lion than a man.
Hector: What vice is that, good Troilus? chide me for it.
Troilus: When many times the captive Grecian falls,
Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,
You bid them rise, and live.
Hector: O,’tis fair play.
Troilus: Fool’s play, by heaven, Hector.
Hector: How now! how now!
Troilus and Cressida (V.iii.3318-3326)


Miranda: Sweet lord, you play me false.
Ferdinand: No, my dear’st love,
I would not for the world.
Miranda: Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it, fair play.
The Tempest (V.i.2218-22)


“Fair play”, Shakespeare’s surprisingly complex little statement of how the world ought to work – and how it often doesn’t – is only two words long, but those two words hold radically different meanings on which he builds beautifully subtle little puns on humans’ capacity to celebrate both foolish virtue and clever dishonesty. Most famously used in The Tempest (the subject of our very own 2013 Shakespeare Challenge – totally click that and read ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING – it has become a cornerstone of our popular culture throughout the West.

‘Fair’ derives from the Old Norse fagr, which means ‘beautiful’, but also from the Old Gothic fagrs, which means ‘fitting’ – that ‘g’ sounds like a ‘y’ in both languages. ‘Play’, meanwhile, comes from the Old English plegian – which means a ton of things, including ‘to move rapidly / to occupy or busy oneself / to exercise / to frolic / to make sport of / to mock / to perform music.’ It also, again, comes from the Old Saxon plegan, which means ‘to take care of / to pledge’. It’s like the words mean everything at once.

Most importantly, however, the words suggest that to be true, to be honourable, is to be beautiful or appealing. Philip’s offer to the French is an elegant, bloodless peace rather than war, and Miranda sees the courage to fight one’s political corner for “a score of kingdoms” is both ‘fair’ (justified) and, we gather, ‘fair’ – an attractively confident move. (As a side note, in some European English dialects “Fair play!” or “Fair play to you!” means “Well done!” – simply recognizing that a powerful enough move is beautiful for that reason alone.)

At the same time, however, ‘fair play’ can also be (please pardon the sports/Macbeth pun) a ‘foul’ – Ferdinand being ‘fair’ to himself means ‘speaking false’ to his new fiancée Miranda. Troilus complains that, in the Trojan War to save their homeland, ‘fair play’ to their foemen is ‘Fool’s play’. Philip’s delaying his attack to propose a ‘fair’ peace leads to a general massacre on both sides, due to an enemy who interprets his kindness as weakness. Then his King gets treacherously poisoned by a monk. Ah, the obscure History Plays.

Futhermore, in all three works, the use of ‘fair play’ comes in Act 5. All these lines come near the end of the ‘play’ – a further pun! – and involve the final narrative devices that wrap up their plotlines. To seamlessly heal the breach between nobles in The Tempest by the Ferdinand/Miranda marriage is a ‘fair’ resolution (both just and attractively elegant) to the play’s problems; Troilus and Hector are about to face the sort of ‘fair’ divine justice that destroys Troy for Helen’s seduction from her Greek husband; Philip makes a ‘fair play’ offer to end the war early, and France’s foolhardy rejection leads to their horrible defeat. (In Shakespeare plays, France being humiliated is always, always a very happy ending.)

In our time, which is a bit short on entirely virtuous wars and unambiguously handsome princes, the idea of fair play is most often applied to sporting events or other such formal contests. A game or challenge marked by ‘fair play’ is one in which all participants acknowledge that winning or advantage isn’t everything – that there are rules and standards of behavior they should follow at all times. This doesn’t just mean ‘not cheating’, but respecting the opponent, refusing to abuse their weaknesses unfairly, and preserving a good and positive attitude towards the opposition and the competition itself, win or lose.

Thus, again, the double meaning of ‘fair’; impartial justice is important, but so is the act of being seen to desire and appreciate such justice more than one’s own glory. One must be ‘fair’ in the sense that one must do good, but also in that one must be seen as ‘fair’, admirable and blameless, the sort of person who wouldn’t even consider skulduggery.

Similarly, valid concerns with ‘fair play’ largely concentrate on competitive sports – an enjoyable but largely pointless social distraction. One thus ‘plays’, but also makes a ‘pledge’ – from the word’s other source – to follow an ironclad set of rules. One who ‘plays’ innocently frolics, but is also a ‘player’ (a word which means both ‘dishonest lover’ and ‘powerful insider’). When one is conned out of some advantage, one is said to have been ‘played’.

Our obsession with ‘fair play’ also points to a sadder irony. We feel the need to demand and celebrate fair play because, in an age of blood doping and match fixing, of election fraud and personal perjury, it seems so hard to find – we are anxious about how much it is ever really there. It was Keats that claimed, in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, that “”Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. Much like gold or diamonds, perhaps the beauty of truth comes from its rarity as a pure or an uncomplicated item, a White Knight in a world whose shades are ever more gray.

Perhaps that’s also part of Shakespeare’s beauty – his plays strenuously argue for grand moral sentiments and ‘fair plays’ (beautiful dramatic works) have also internally maintained a sense of ‘fair play’. Cheaters rarely prosper in Shakespeare, and even in the Tragedies villains tend to get their just desserts. He’s rarely unrealistic about how likely or satisfying fair play is as a solution, but always compassionate about the comforts of imagining a world where the ‘quality of mercy’, of forgiveness, or of forebearance really is ‘not strained’.

Wordy Wednesday!

“Fight till the last gasp” ~ This phrase, commonly used today, was coined by Shakespeare in the history play Henry VI Part I.


My lord, where are you? what devise you on?                                                        Shall we give over Orleans, or no?

Joan la Pucelle:                     

Why, no, I say, distrustful recreants!
Fight till the last gasp; I will be your guard.

Charles, King of France:     

What she says I’ll confirm: we’ll fight it out.

Joan la Pucelle:                      

Assign’d am I to be the English scourge.     (1)                                                                                                                        

In Henry VI Part I – Act One Scene Two, Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) rouses the French Army Commanders into action and promises to show unwavering courage and commitment in the battlefield against the English and demands the same from them.

joan of arc


Through Joan Shakespeare invokes the never yielding spirit of a true warrior to keep fighting – even if it is with their last dying breath, and in so doing, coined the now widely used phrase: fight till the last gasp.

Last Gasp:

Idiom – The moment before death; also, the end (3)

Origin – 1350-1400; Middle English gaspen,  equivalent to Old Norse geispa  (4)

Today, the ‘fight till the last gasp’ analogy is commonly used in the sporting arena, where sports men and women do battle to the bitter end, never yielding until the final whistle is blown or the chequered flag is waved.  Instead of  “the vasty fields of France” (5), it is now on the rugby field where you would see France and England battle it out for the spoils of victory in the Rugby Union Six Nations Championship every year.

The unyielding, never say die attitude and strength of will of Shakespeare’s Joan la Pucelle is evoked poignantly in the final lines of Alfred Tennyson’s epic poem Ulysses.  This transcendental notion, whether used literally or figuratively, of never giving up and fighting until the end for what you believe in has been a mainstay of our theatrical and cinematic culture.  Most recently, Dame Judi Dench as M in the new James Bond film Skyfall, during a government enquiry into the current effectiveness of the British Secret Service, delivers a powerful rendering of Tennyson’s immortal lines:

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.   (6)

As the head of MI6, Dench’s character is alluding to the fact that England’s enemy is no longer visible – no longer a nation that can be fought on a battlefield, but one that lingers in the shadows, and that her department will strive to defend and protect the people in this ever-changing world. (7)  Or as Bond himself refers to it earlier in the film, using another Shakespearean phrase – this “brave new world”. (8)

By Linda Nicoll


1.         Henry VI Part I [I. ii. 323-328]

2.         Diomedia: Copyright ©1999-2013 Diosphere Ltd t/a DIOMEDIA [http://www.diomedia.com/public/15413/25/en/imageSearch.html;jsessionid=0964C69CB491FD7FCBC6CB8958011560.worker2] Accessed 15/01/2013

3.         Ammer, C (1997) The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston, MA.

4.         Dictionary.com: Copyright © 2013 Dictionary.com, LLC [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/last+gasp] Accessed 15/01/2013

5.        Henry V [Prologue. 13]

6.        Tennyson, A. T., & Day, A. (1991). Alfred Lord Tennyson: Selected Poems. Penguin Classics. London

7.         Skyfall ~ James Bond. Dir. Sam Mendes. MGM. 2012

8.         The Tempest [V. i. 2235]

Wordy Wednesday – “Neither rhyme nor reason”

‘I got my rhyme on my reason and my reason on my rhyme’…sounds like the start of a hit by rap duo, Rhyme2Reason 😎

The two nouns are synonymous with each other:

  • ‘Rhyme’ refers to a set structure, poetic metre, a correspondence between words.
  • ‘Reason’ is clarity, a logical cause, an explanation for an event.

So to have neither rhyme nor reason is to have no common sense.

The phrase occurs twice in Shakespeare’s works. First in The Comedy of Errors (1590), when Dromio tries to take the ease off his master’s scolding:

Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season,
When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?


And later in As You Like It (1600), as Orlando professes his love for Rosalind (who is disguised in the scene):

ROSALIND: But are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?
ORLANDO: Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.


In both cases, the phrase is used to express a situation that’s inexpressible. But the tone in HOW it is uttered, differs. Check it out…

Dromio mentions ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ to convey the meaningless use of the words, ‘why’ and ‘wherefore’. He utters it in a sarcastic tone to reveal an unintelligent situation. But Orlando utters ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ to express a love that transcends mere words. His tone is more uplifting, and shows that the emotion of love is beyond intelligent structure and logic.

While Shakespeare popularized the phrase, its origins can be traced before The Bard’s time. ‘Neither rhyme nor reason’ stems from the French term, Na Ryme ne Raison, with its earliest English usage coming from sources including:

  • John Russell – The Boke of Nurture, 1460 (‘As for ryme or reson, ye forewryter was not to blame…’).
  • Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) – The English writer utters the term while critiquing an author’s manuscript (‘Now it is somewhat, for now it is rhyme; whereas before it was neither rhyme nor reason.’)

By: Vineeta Moraes

Rhyme nor Reason – http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/301500.html
Oxford English Dictionary – http://www.oed.com/
The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology  – George Latimer Apperson and Martin H. Manser
Common Phrases: And Where They Come From – Myron Korach and John Mordock

Wordy Wednesday – “Primrose path”


In Hamlet, Laertes, leaving for France, tells his sister Ophelia to guard her heart against Hamlet.   Laertes suggests that Hamlet’s affections are “Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, / The perfume and suppliance of a minute; no more.”


I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

The primrose is a flowering plant of over 400 species, bearing blue, pink, purple, red, white, or yellow blossoms.

Here, Shakespeare’s “primrose path” is the path of ease, indulgence, and pleasure.  Ophelia not only listens to Laertes, but also challenges him to heed his own advice.  Primroses are perennial though, in this context, they represent fickleness – perhaps “perennial” frivolity?

There are six more references to primroses in Shakespeare’s plays:



So, so: well done, well done:
The violets, cowslips, and the primroses,
Bear to my closet.


Whilst summer lasts and I live here, Fidele,
I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose

Henry VI, Part II


I would be blind with weeping, sick with groans,
Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs,
And all to have the noble duke alive.



I’ll devil-porter
it no further: I had thought to have let in
some of all professions that go the primrose
way to the everlasting bonfire.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream


And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet…

The Winter’s Tale


…pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength…

By Vineeta Moraes and Laboni Islam


“Primrose.”  Encyclopedia Britannica
Image:  Sloat Garden Center

Wordy Wednesday – “Crack of doom”

Today’s Wordy Wednesday is a phrase of grand, earth-shattering proportions.

Behold the CRACK OF DOOM. DOOOOOOM. Isn’t it just an awesome phrase to say out loud?

The phrase stems from the biblical concept of the Day of Judgment – the moment when God passes on final judgment over all nations, with trumpet blasts signaling the end of the world. In connection with ‘Crack of Doom’:

  • Crack: refers to a sharp noise, like the sound of a trumpet. It can also refer to the crack that separates the earthly world from the non-earthly one.
  • Doom: synonymous term for the Day of Judgement (Doomsday).

Shakespeare coins the phrase in Macbeth (IV. i. 112-117), when Macbeth reacts to the prophecies of the three witches:

MACBETH: Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo: down!
Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls. And thy hair,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
A third is like the former. Filthy hags!
Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?

To his despair, the witches reveal that Banquo (a threat to Macbeth’s royal lineage) will start a line of kingship so far that – Macbeth exaggerates – will extend to the ‘crack of doom’. He uses the phrase in a temporal sense to affirm his suspicions of Banquo’s line taking over, and even better, going on till the end of time. Nothing says rage and revenge like a good ‘ole session of over-thinking. And Macbeth does it like a pro.

Other references to the phrase are also found in a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets, such as Sonnet 116 – ‘Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.’ And Sonnet 55 – ‘Your praise shall still find room even in the eyes of all posterity that wear this world out to the ending doom.’

Besides Shakespeare, the other well-known mention of the phrase occurs in the literary world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In The Lord of the Rings, the Cracks of Doom are not temporal but actual, physical cracks and fissures inside the great volcano of Orodruin, also called Mount Doom.

Even though Shakespeare and Tolkien don’t explicitly mention the Day of Judgment event, they use its imagery of large-scale finality and catastrophe to heighten their own characters’ struggles – from Macbeth’s all-encompassing fears over the witches’ prophecies, to Frodo’s ultimate decision to throw the One Ring into the cracks of Mount Doom.

Photo and blog post by: Vineeta Moraes


Martin, Gary. “The crack of doom.” The Phrase Finder. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/103950.html&gt;

“Cracks of Doom.” Tolkien Gateway. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Cracks_of_Doom&gt;

Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <http://www.oed.com&gt;