Shakespeare Story

50 Shakespeare words and their meanings

 ​​ Are you a candle-waster? Do you find joy in gallimaufry? Have you ever found yourself feeling a bit frampold?

5 minute read

What do you like to do in your spare time? Us… well, we get our reading heads on, light the fire, pour a glass of malmsy and work our way through our most-favourite plays and sonnets by William Shakespeare, pulling out some of our most-favourite words along the way. To share with you all, of course. Just because.

So, here you go. 50 words that appear in Shakespeare’s texts that we love for no particular reason at all. We hope you enjoy slotting some kicky-wickys, noddles, welkins and buzzers into your every day conversations (go on, we know you can do it).

1. Hiems (n.)

The personification of Winter, this word is used twice by Shakespeare, in Love’s Labour’s Lost (‘This side is Hiems, Winter, this Ver, the Spring; the one maintained by the owl, the other by the cuckoo. Ver, begin.) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (‘And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown.’).

2. Malmsey (n.)

A sweet, fortified wine (‘Nay then, two treys, and if you grow so nice, Metheglin, wort, and malmsey: well run, dice!’ Love’s Labour’s Lost).

Snow covers a circular white wattle and daub building, sticking to the thatch roof.

Don’t we look pretty when good old Hiems brings us snow?

3. Sneap (n.)

Snub, reproof, rebuke (‘My lord, I will not undergo this sneap without reply.’ Henry IV, Part II).

4. Sluggardiz’d (v.)

To be made into an idler (‘I rather would entreat thy company To see the wonders of the world abroad, Than, living dully sluggardized at home’ The Two Gentlemen of Verona).

5. Puissance (n.)

Meaning power, or might (‘Cousin, go draw our puissance together.’ King John).

An old book lies open, with a floridly illustrated first letter

William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, 1623 (Munro First Folio). Photographer: Pete Le May.

6. Mobbled (adj.)

With face muffled up, veiled (‘But who, O who had seen the mobbled queen’ (Hamlet).

9. Egregious (adj.)

Remarkably good or great (of things) / striking, significant (of events and utterances) – ‘Except..thou do give to me egregious Ransome’ Henry V.

10. Consanguineous (adj.)

Of the same blood, related by blood, akin; of or pertaining to those so related (‘Am not I consanguineous? am I not of her blood?’ Twelfth Night).

11. Caper (v.)

To dance with joy, to leap with delight (‘No, sir, it is legs and thighs. Let me see thee caper. Ha! Higher! Ha! Ha! Excellent!’ Twelfth Night).

12. Expiate (v.)

To bring to an end (‘When in thee time’s furrows I behold, Then look I death my days should expiate.’ Sonnet 22).

13. Mated (adj.)

Bewildered, confused (‘I think you are all mated, or stark mad.’ The Comedy of Errors).

14. Foison (n.)

Abundance, plenty, profusion (‘All things in common nature should produce Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony, Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine, Would I not have; but nature should bring forth, Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance, To feed my innocent people.’ The Tempest).

15. Guileful (adj.)

Full of guile, deceitful, devious, as spoken in Henry VI, Part I – ‘Amongst the soldiers this is muttered: That here you maintain several factions, And whilst a field should be dispatched and fought, You are disputing of your generals. One would have ling’ring wars, with little cost; Another would fly swift, but wanteth wings; A third thinks, without expense at all, By guileful fair words peace may be obtained. Awake, awake, English nobility! Let not sloth dim your honours new-begot.’

16. Bacchanal (n.)

Dance in honour of Bacchus, the God of Wine – ‘Shall we dance now the Egyptian Bacchanals, And celebrate our drink?’ (Antony and Cleopatra).

‘Unbind my hands, I’ll pull them off myself,
Yea, all my raiment to my petticoat.’

– Bianca, The Taming of Shrew

An actor on stage in a brown dress

Evelyn Miller as Bianca in Maria Gaitanidi’s The Taming of the Shrew in 2020 in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photographer: Johan Persson.

17. Raiment (n.)

Clothing, vestments (as mentioned in The Taming of the Shrew). Clothes are also referred to as ‘Habiliments’ in the same play.

18. Welkin (n.)

The apparent arch or vault of heaven overhead; the sky, the firmament. As stated in Richard II (‘Amaze the welkin with your broken staves’), The Taming of the Shrew (‘Thy hounds shall make the welkin answer them.’) and Twelfth Night (‘But we shall make the welkin dance indeed?’).

19. Gamesome (adj.)

Sportive, merry, playful (‘For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous, But slow in speech’ The Taming of the Shrew).

20. Noddle (n.)

The back of the head (‘Doubt not her care should be To comb your noddle with a three-legged stool.’ The Taming of the Shrew).

21. Fleshment (n.)

The excitement associated with a successful beginning (‘And, in the fleshment of this dread exploit, Drew on me here again.’ King Lear).

22. Sceptered (adj.)

Invested with royal authority.

‘This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,–
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Richard II

An actor in a white suit sits on a throne wearing a gold crown
Richard II, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 2019. Photographer: Ingrid Pollard.

23. Gratulate (v.)

Greet, welcome, salute (‘To gratulate thy plenteous bosom.’ Timon of Athens).

24. Peregrinate (v.)

Travel or wander from place to place (‘Too peregrinate, as I may call it.’ Love’s Labour’s Lost).

25. Kicky-wicky (n.)

Girl-friend, wife (‘That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home’ All’s Well That Ends Well).

26. Bawcock (n.)

Fine fellow, good chap (‘I’fecks, Why, that’s my bawcock.’ The Winter’s Tale).

27. Buzzer (n.)

Rumour-monger, gossiper (‘And wants not buzzers to infect his ear With pestilent speeches of his father’s death’ Hamlet).

28. Gallimaufry (n.)

Complete mixture, every sort, a medley, hotchpotch (‘He loves the gallimaufry’ The Merry Wives of Windsor).

29. Garboil (n.)

Trouble, disturbance, commotion, as Antony says to Cleopatra, ‘She’s dead, my queen. Look here, at thy sovereign leisure read The garboils she awaked. At last, best, See when and where she died.’

30. Miching (adj.)

Sneaking, sulking, lurking – ‘Marry, this is miching mallecho. That means mischief.’ (Hamlet).

31. Meed (n.)

Reward, prize, recompense (‘If you are hired for meed, go back again, And I will send you to my brother Gloucester’ Richard III).

32. Affy (v.)

To have confidence or trust in (‘Marcus Andronicus, so I do affy, In they uprightness and integrity’ Titus Andronicus).

33. Candle-waster (n.)

One who wastes candles by sitting up all night, probably not a reveller, as some have supposed, but a nocturnal student; a bookworm.

‘Bring me a father that so loved his child,
Whose joy of her is overwhelm’d like mine,
And bid him speak of patience;
Measure his woe the length and breadth of mine
And let it answer every strain for strain,
As thus for thus and such a grief for such,
In every lineament, branch, shape, and form:
If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
Bid sorrow wag, cry ‘hem!’ when he should groan,
Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters; bring him yet to me,
And I of him will gather patience.’

Much Ado About Nothing

Two candles sit on a black candelabra

Maybe candle-wasters could be found in our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse! Photographer: Pete Le May.

34. Questant (n.)

Seeker, searcher, someone engaged in a quest.

‘No, no, it cannot be; and yet my heart
Will not confess he owes the malady
That doth my life besiege.
Farewell, young lords;
Whether I live or die, be you the sons
Of worthy Frenchmen: let higher Italy,—
Those bated that inherit but the fall
Of the last monarchy,—see that you come
Not to woo honour, but to wed it; when
The bravest questant shrinks, find what you seek,
That fame may cry you loud: I say, farewell.’

All’s Well That Ends Well

35. Lief (adv.)

Readily, willingly. Rosalind in As You Like It tells Orlando ‘I had as lief be woo’d of a snail.’

36. Urchin-snouted (adj.)

Having a nose like that of a hedgehog, or having a goblin-like, demoniac snout (‘But this foul, grim, and urchin-snouted boar’ Venus and Adonis).

37. Gambold (n.)

Frolic, entertainment, pastime – ‘Marry, I will; let them play it. Is not a comonty a Christmas gambold or a tumbling-trick?’ is from the prologue of The Taming of the Shrew.

38. Bluster (n.)

Storm, tempest, rough blast (‘We have landed in ill time. The skies look grimly And threaten present blusters.’ The Winter’s Tale).

39. Kirtle (n.)

Dress, gown. As Falstaff says to Doll in Henry IV, Part II What stuff wilt have a kirtle of? I shall receive money o’Thursday; shalt have a cap tomorrow.’

40. Carcanet (n.)

A jewelled necklace – from Sonnet 52, ‘Like stones of worth they thinly placed are, Or captain jewels in the carcanet.’

41. Pell-mell (adv., adj., n.)

Confused and / or disorderly mass (‘Advance your standards, and upon them, lords; Pell-mell, down with them!’ Love’s Labour’s Lost).

42. Pother (n.)

Fuss, uproar, commotion – ‘Let the great gods, That keep this dreadful pother o’er our heads’ (King Lear).

43. Relume (v.)

Relight, rekindle, burn afresh. Othello says to himself ‘I know not where is that Promethean heat That can thy light relume.’

44. Frampold (adj.)

Disagreeable, bad-tempered, moody. ‘She leads a very frampold life with him,’ says Mistress Quickly to Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

45. Younker (n.)

Fashionable young man, fine young gentleman. (‘Those will make the younker madder.’ say the Witches in Macbeth).

Actors dance on an outdoor stage

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Globe Theatre, 2019. Photographer: Helen Murray.

46. Germen (n.)

Seed, life-forming elements.

‘Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow,
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drenched the steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head; and thou all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity of the world,
Crack nature’s mould, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man.’

King Lear

47. Raze (v.)

To destroy completely (‘I’ll find a day to massacre them all And raze their faction and their family’ Titus Andronicus).

48. Ostent (n.)

Appearance; air; mein (‘Like one well studied in a sad ostent’ The Merchant of Venice).

49. Thrasonical (adj.)

Bragging; boastful; vainglorious. Quote from As You Like It‘There was never any thing so sudden but the fight of two rams and Caesar’s thrasonical brag of ‘I came, saw, and overcame’.’

50. Atomy (n.)

Atom, mote, speck, or mite, tiny being (‘It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover.’ As You Like It). 



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