A non-grammar post for St Crispin’s Day

No, I don’t want to put a period/full stop after “St,” because in BrE standard mechanics there isn’t one. (There’s a logic to it, but that’s another post. Stick around and I might explain someday.)

In 2015 I got a wild hair and wrote a parody of the famed “St Crispin’s Day” speech from Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” The speaker is Hereford V, rallying his troops for St Frisian’s Day. Of course, there is no “St Frisian.” I’m of Frisian heritage, and it amused me to toy with the words.

Anyway, here’s my poor effort at parodying that rousing passage. I hope you at least groan and roll your eyes.


Welsh Black. O that we now had here

But one ten thousand of those bulls in England

That do no work to-day!

Hereford V. What’s he that wishes so?

My cousin Welsh Black? No, my fair cousin;

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow

To do our country loss; and if to live,

The fewer bulls, the greater share of honour.

God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one bull more.

By Jersey, I am not covetous for gold,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my meat;

It yearns me not if bulls my pastures graze;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet honour,

I am the most offending soul alive.

No, faith, my coz, wish not a bull from England.

God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour

As one bull more methinks would share from me

For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Welsh Black, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; the barnyard gates shall open,

And none shall speak him ill as he departs;

We would not die in that bull’s company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is call’d the feast of Frisian.

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-hoof when this day is nam’d,

And rouse him at the name of Frisian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Frisian.’

Then will he turn his flank and show his scars,

And say ‘These wounds I had on Frisian’s day.’

Old bulls forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,

Familiar in his mouth as household words—

Hereford the King, Bernaise and Evolene,

Warwickshire, Shetland, Salers and Gloucestershire—

Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.

This story shall the good bull teach his son;

And Holstein Frisian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered—

We few, we happy few, we herd 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 peaceful bulls in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their stud fees cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Frisian’s day.

That’s not Shakespearean.

My brain just said those words as I was reading the etymology for “layabout.”

I was sure, in my head, that the word had to be Shakespearean. It sounds Shakespearean. I’m sure I’ve heard or read it in pieces that are set, chronologically, well before 1932.

And yet, there’s the date, in black and gray (that box isn’t white, it’s gray). 1932. American. The word doesn’t even have the courtesy to be British.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online site further explains that “lay” in this sense is the “nonstandard alteration of lie about.” I figured as much, but it’s always comforting to see such a thing in print.

Then there’s the other term, “to lay about,” which means “to strike randomly in all directions.” As in “He laid about with a mace and still managed to strike nothing.” Here’s the link to Etymology Online’s entry, showing the “put down (often by striking)” meaning.

I suppose, then, that a layabout might lay about if awakened suddenly.


It’s green, but which one is it?

“Green with envy.”

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” (Yo, that’s from Shakespeare. Othello, Act III, scene 3.)

There’s envy, and there’s jealousy, and while common usage has conflated them to where perhaps it really doesn’t matter much to anyone anymore, there are times it’s worth knowing which is which. If you’re writing in a more formal register, or perhaps your fiction is a “period piece” with slightly dusty conventions, you might want to know how to use these words in the old-fashioned way. If you don’t care, you can stop reading here. Seriously. Don’t waste your time.  Continue reading “It’s green, but which one is it?”

Superannuated Syntax: “Hard by”

“The house sat hard by a small stream.”

It did what? Did it fall from the sky, like Dorothy’s farmhouse, and “sit hard” on someone?

Nothing nearly so exciting, I fear. This phrase means simply “near.” My copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles tells me that this usage of “hard” (with “by”) is archaic and dates to 1526. The meaning of “hard” is “close, of time or place,” but the sense of “of time” is no longer used. Continue reading “Superannuated Syntax: “Hard by””

Superannuated Syntax: For Such Fell Purpose

“Fell” needs to be resurrected in the adjectival sense, for my money. It’s a wonderful word used in that manner. I’ll wager you know the phrase “one fell swoop,” meaning “a swift and deadly stroke” (and if you don’t know it, you can read about it here). Unsurprisingly, that phrase comes from Shakespeare. Macbeth, actually. But I digress. Continue reading “Superannuated Syntax: For Such Fell Purpose”