Talk Like a Local: Shakespeare’s Slang

Talk Like a Local — By Alexi Ueltzen on August 12, 2009 at 9:48 am

Slang has been around as long as human language has existed. Surprisingly, one of slang’s most fruitful time periods was the Elizabethan age. During that time, England’s prolific Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne and even Queen Elizabeth herself created some of the most revered pieces of literature that the English-speaking world has ever seen. Meanwhile, however, the rest of the population wasn’t as concerned with being eloquent and lofty. In fact, some of the slang those commoners developed was downright crude (but, some might argue, equally artistic).

While using the following words might raise some eyebrows in your day-to-day vernacular – “Devil take thee, copy machine!” – we’re willing to bet they’ll get you respect at Renaissance fairs the world over. Read on for some of the Elizabethan era’s best slang:

A-swame: Fainting
“The stench was so bad the women were a-swame.”

Coads-nigs: An emphatic oath. (For oaths with a more religious focus, see also “God’s Dignity,” “God’s Feet,” “God’s Hat,” and “God’s Nails”)
“Coads-nigs! I forgot the eggs.”

Aqua Vitae: “The water of life”; Brandy or Whiskey
“The sailors are here, and I’ve an appointment at the docks. Methinks I need an Aqua Vitae.”

Bench-whistler: Idler; lazy person
“My new apprentice – what a bench-whistler! All he does is eat and sleep.”

Cly the Jerk: To be whipped
“Remember that pig thief? We’re going to cly the jerk this afternoon in the town square. Are you coming?”

Roaring Boys: Hooligans; Thugs
“Those roaring boys stole my pumpkins again. God’s Loaves!”

Jakes: A privy; toilet
“I ate so many green apples on Sunday I was in the jakes all night.”

Want to learn more Elizabethan slang? Check out a great list here.

Photo courtesy of Martin Beek/Creative Commons
Tags: Elizabethan, england, marlowe, shakespeare, slang

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