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No one in Shakespeare's Day ever worried?

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message 1: by Lea (last edited Aug 17, 2015 01:12PM) (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments I was reading an article about anxiety the other day (it was in the Economist magazine, which is subscription, but here's the link anyway: and it mentions that the word "worry" was only used in Shakespeare's entire cannon once. Once! And as a verb meaning "to choke," not even in the sense of to worry like we use it today. The article went on to suggest that worrying as we understand it today simply wasn't done in the 16th century, that it is a modern sort of navel-gazing phenomenon. What? I'm astounded! Had anyone else noticed that Shakespeare never uses the word worry? So many characters do "worry" of course, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, need I mention Hamlet... so maybe it is just the choice of word? Or did people really worry less/differently in 16th century England? Any thoughts?

message 2: by Martin (last edited Aug 18, 2015 06:12AM) (new)

Martin | 16 comments I'm sure they had the idea, Lea, even if not the word.

Prospero: Be collected:
No more amazement: tell your piteous heart
There's no harm done.

He's saying, "don't worry". The AV Bible has no word "worry", but uses "fret",

Sam1 1:6 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.

Psa 37:1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

All these words, "worry" "chafe", "fret" come from metaphors. Really one should say, "worry oneself", "chafe oneself", "fret oneself". "worry" meant to strangle, "chafe" meant to to rub the skin off, "fret" similarly, but without the sense of heating.

message 3: by Christine (last edited Aug 24, 2015 08:48AM) (new)

Christine | 433 comments I think this is quite fascinating! But Lea, I agree, many of the characters certainly were 'worrying' even if that was not the word used. I looked up the origin and it seems the word worry as we know it was not used until the 19th century! This from google:

Old English wyrgan ‘strangle.’ In Middle English the original sense of the verb gave rise to the meaning ‘seize by the throat and tear,’ later figuratively ‘harass,’ whence ‘cause anxiety to’ (early 19th century, the date also of the noun).

message 4: by Martin (last edited Aug 24, 2015 01:04AM) (new)

Martin | 16 comments Christine that is really interesting. I've noticed that Keats always uses "fret" where we would use "worry", and I don't think he ever uses "worry" in our modern sense,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan ...

... pools numberless,
May rage, and foam, and fret, but never can
Subside ...

and so on. We still say an animal frets, a cat missing a kitten for example (at least, we do in England). "fret" is of course a word with many meanings, brilliantly exploited in the pun in Hamlet,

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me."

The direct meaning is, you can make me anxious, but you can't make me do what you want. But on a guitar the bars where you hold the strings down are called "frets" (Candy, please confirm), and to fret an instrument meant to calibrate it for playing. So Hamlet is comparing himself to a stringed instrument that you can tune up but can't play.

message 5: by Christine (last edited Aug 24, 2015 08:48AM) (new)

Christine | 433 comments Interesting about Keats and Hamlet! The word 'fret' seems more poetic -- although we use it in the U.S. it is probably not as common as 'worry'.

I love the Hamlet quote. We could take that one step further --'you cannot play upon me', whereas in modern slang we might say 'don't play me' or 'he got played' meaning fooled or tricked.

I looked up the origin of FRET:

Middle English, to devour, fret, from Old English fretan to devour; akin to Old High German frezzan to devour, ezzan to eat — more at eat
First Known Use: 12th century

So -- it seems 'worry' originated in strangling and 'fret' originated in consuming -- both causing anxiety.

message 6: by Lea (last edited Aug 24, 2015 11:47AM) (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Christine wrote: "Interesting about Keats and Hamlet! The word 'fret' seems more poetic -- although we use it in the U.S. it is probably not as common as 'worry'.

I love the Hamlet quote. We could take that one s..."

I love these word origins and quotes Christine and Martin, thanks!

The origins of how these words came to be is so very serious and intense. Choking and devouring. I think that is a clue to the difference in the psychic act of "worrying" that the original article I mentioned was trying to get at. In earlier times you had anxiety about serious things, like choking to death! Today, we have anxiety about if we locked the back door or not. The article, I think, was not trying to say that no one "worried" in the past, but that today we often "worry" differently. In an OCD sense that didn't use to happen before. Is OCD only a modern phenomenon, in other words??

message 7: by Martin (new)

Martin | 16 comments Yes, that is very interesing Lea. It is strange to think a mental phenomeneon might be entirely modern. I can't think of any example in earlier litrature of someone worrying (say) about whether they've turned off all the taps before leaving the house or going to bed, and yet we all seem to have that tendency a bit nowadays.

Another thing that has often struck me is that I can't think of any references to hypnosis before the 19th century. I have been hypnotised, and know that it is real. Learning how to hypnotise is not so hard. It is common in our age. Was it really unknown in the past?

message 8: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 170 comments Martin wrote: "I can't think of any example in earlier litrature of someone worrying (say) about whether they've turned off all the taps before leaving the house or going to bed..."

There is that famous incident in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman when the hero's moment of conception is marred by his mother asking his father whether he remembered to wind up the clock. But that's quite late I suppose; 1759.

message 9: by Martin (new)

Martin | 16 comments True Bryn, but of course the mother is influenced by an association of ideas there: Mr Shandy always makes love to his wife after winding up the clock!

message 10: by Lea (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Hmmmm, I'll have to think about the hypnosis thing. Nothing is coming to mind right now...

message 11: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments We used to say that Lady MacBeth was the first OCD -- all that hand washing, haha :P

message 12: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Regarding hypnosis, I am sure some form of it must have existed in ancient cultures, maybe not in the modern sense as we think of it, but surely as meditations and altered consciousness.

This from Wiki:


Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980–1037), a Persian psychologist and physician, was the earliest to make a distinction between sleep and hypnosis. In The Book of Healing, which he published in 1027, he referred to hypnosis in Arabic as al-Wahm al-Amil, stating that one could create conditions in another person so that he/she accepts the reality of hypnosis.

message 13: by Martin (new)

Martin | 16 comments Thanks Christine, I have heard the name "Avicenna", but knew nothing about him.

message 14: by John (new)

John Doherty (johndoherty) | 40 comments Actually, the word 'worry' appears twice in Shakespeare's plays.
Henry V:
By your own counsel is suppressed and killed.
You must not dare, for shame, to talk of mercy,
For your own reasons turn into your bosoms,
As dogs upon their masters, worrying you. 2.II
Richard 3:
That dog that had his teeth before his eyes,
To worry lambs and lap their gentle blood; 4.IV

message 15: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Still strange, though, that it would only appear twice. If anyone had asked me offhand, I would have sworn I'd seen that word in Shakespeare, and probably often!

message 16: by Martin (last edited Aug 27, 2015 11:07PM) (new)

Martin | 16 comments We still say, "the dog worried the rat" etc, whether or not the dog seizes by the throat. It is interesting that John's second example is the literal meaning of "worry" as in Lea's first post, while the first is the metaphorical modern meaning: the reasons worry the thinker in the same way that dogs may attack their masters.

Christine is right that there are more examples, but there are not many. Go to

patiently wait for the page to load, and put "worr" in the search box.

Here is a very unusual usage. Perdita is finally restored to Leontes in The Winter's Tale. The event is "offstage", and is described in 5.2,

Our king, being ready to leap out of himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that joy were now become a loss, cries 'O, thy mother, thy mother!' then asks Bohemia forgiveness; then embraces his son-in-law; then again worries he his daughter with clipping her.

"clipping" means "kissing" ("clip your wives", says Antony), so "worry" here, I take it, means seizing his daughter like a dog seizing its prey.

message 17: by Martin (new)

Martin | 16 comments Actually, on the subject of hypnotism, I remember Candy saying that Prospero gets Miranda to sleep by hypnosis:

message 69

message 18: by John (new)

John Doherty (johndoherty) | 40 comments Clipping in Shakespeare means embracing, not kissing. John whil..."

message 19: by John (new)

John Doherty (johndoherty) | 40 comments There are 4 worr... in Shakespeare

message 20: by Lea (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Fascinating posts everyone. I love words in and of themselves, and I really enjoy understanding how they are used, how they have changed over time, what Shakespeare was trying to convey with certain word choices...

We should start a thread about specific words and how they are used in the Shakespeare canon. As we are doing now with "worr*" Would anyone else be interested in such a discussion?

I just wrote on my blog about the word "cutpurse" for thief. What a great word. Why don't we use it anymore? Because wallets are stolen now more than purses? Because people used to steal more by knife and now it's more by, I don't know, gun? I obviously have no idea why we don't use the word cutpurse much anymore, but I find it fascinating to contemplate...

message 21: by Martin (last edited Aug 28, 2015 10:38AM) (new)

Martin | 16 comments Lea, I was thinking the same thing! Words in Shakespeare and how he used them. "Cutpurse" is a lovely word. Purses used to be attached to the person by strings or straps or something, so you could use a knife and cut one off. A bit like being a pickpocket. And as your first post said, if S doesn't use a word because it's a modern invention, did he have the idea behind it, and if so, how was the idea expressed?

John's posts look interesting but seem to have been truncated. John, do you want to edit them?

One thing leads to another ... Like clipping meaning kissing (my guess), or embracing, as John says.

I like the idea of young lovers clipping in the moonlight ...

message 22: by Lea (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Martin, great point! I knew that purses were often attached to girdles people wore around their waists in Shakespeare's day, and now "cutpurse" makes even more sense to me. You would slyly cut that thing off to steal it - I see it now!

Here's another word that always strikes me when I see how Shakespeare uses it: "true"

I think of true neutrally in a factual sense, i.e. something is true or it is false. I notice that Shakespeare quite often uses true instead in a very non-neutral, clearly positive sense, to mean good, honest, or trustworthy for example.

From Julius Caesar, where "true" means "honest":
"If the tag-rag people did not clap him and hiss him, according as he pleased and displeased them, as they use to do the players in the theater, I am no true man."

message 23: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Lea wrote: "We should start a thread about specific words and how they are used in the Shakespeare canon. As we are doing now with "worr*" Would anyone else be interested in such a discussion?..."

Lea, I am SO IN!

I too love words and am fascinated by Shakespeare's use and how they have evolved.

message 24: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Another word I love is 'jolthead'! Haha what a great word.

message 25: by Lea (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Christine, can you give us a quote where it's used?

message 26: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments I first noticed it in one of those 'Shakespeare Insults' lists, but it is used in:

Two Gentelmen of Verona, 3,1
LAUNCE: Fie on thee, jolt-head; thou canst not read.

also Taming of The Shrew, 4,1
You heedless joltheads and unmannered slaves!
What, do you grumble? I'll be with you straight.

Apparently it means like 'blockhead'. I always thought it was funny because of 'jolt', and there was not yet electricity!

message 27: by John (new)

John Doherty (johndoherty) | 40 comments In Act 4 Scene 1 of The Taming Of The Shrew, Petruchio calls his servants, "You heedless jolt-heads and unmannered slaves." John

message 28: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Some more I love: Scurvy knave, flirt-gill and skains-mates haha those are so great!

from Romeo & Juliet, 2,4


Scurvy knave! I am none of his flirt-gills; I am
none of his skains-mates. And thou must stand by
too, and suffer every knave to use me at his pleasure?

message 29: by Lea (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Hmmm..

flirt-gill and skains-mates - why do both of those terms make me think of snakes, or perhaps, slimy fish? Does anyone know the origins of those terms? Am I on the right track in thinking that they are insults meant to conjure up animals viewed as less than worthy?

message 30: by Christine (last edited Aug 31, 2015 08:32PM) (new)

Christine | 433 comments Well, the passage I took them from is the scene in R&J when the Nurse goes in the street looking for Romeo. She finds him with his friends and Mercutio teases her a bit. So she is saying she does not stoop to his level, like she is not some little flirt nor one of his buddies.

But Lea I'm sure you're on the right track -- she insinuates that Mercutio and the others ARE like rough animals!

message 31: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments The origins are interesting. I found this on flirt-gill:

flirt (n.) 1540s, "joke, jest, stroke of wit, contemptuous remark," from flirt (v.). By 1560s as "a pert young hussey" [Johnson], and Shakespeare has flirt-gill (i.e. Jill) "a woman of light or loose behavior" (Fletcher formalizes it as flirt-gillian), while flirtgig was a 17c. Yorkshire dialect word for "a giddy, flighty girl." One of the many fl- words suggesting loose, flapping motion and connecting the notions of flightiness and licentiousness. Compare English dialect and Scottish flisk "to fly about nimbly, skip, caper" (1590s); source of Scott's fliskmahoy "girl giddy and full of herself." The meaning "person who plays at courtship" is from 1732 (as the name of female characters in plays at least since 1689 (Aphra Behn's "The Widow Ranter")). Also in early use sometimes "person one flirts with," though by 1862 this was being called a flirtee.

message 32: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Skains-mate, I found this (although there is also a definition that says it means 'prostitute', but I think this one makes more sense.)

n. A messmate; a companion.

n. A roaring or swaggering companion (¶)


Perhaps originally a companion in winding thread (see skein) or a companion in arms, from skain ("a sword") (see skean). See mate. (Wiktionary)

message 33: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments If anyone is into Pirate Culture (like me!) you may know scurvy as a typical disease one gets at sea (due to lack of vitamin C) But here is an origin:

(n.) 1560s, noun use of adjective scurvy "covered with scabs, diseased, scorbutic" (early 15c.), variant of scurfy. It took on the narrower meaning of Dutch scheurbuik, French scorbut "scurvy," in reference to the disease characterized by swollen and bleeding gums, prostration, etc., perhaps from Old Norse skyrbjugr, which is perhaps literally "a swelling (bjugr) from drinking sour milk (skyr) on long sea voyages;" but OED has alternative etymology of Middle Dutch or Middle Low German origin, as "disease that lacerates the belly," from schoren "to lacerate" + Middle Low German buk, Dutch buik "belly."

message 34: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments And of course KNAVE

knave (n.)
Old English cnafa "boy, male servant," common Germanic (cognates: Old High German knabo "boy, youth, servant," German knabe "boy, lad," also probably related to Old English cnapa "boy, youth, servant," Old Norse knapi "servant boy," Dutch knaap "a youth, servant," Middle High German knappe "a young squire," German Knappe "squire, shield-bearer"). The original meaning might have been "stick, piece of wood" [Klein]. Sense of "rogue, rascal" first recorded c. 1200. In playing cards, "the jack," 1560s.

message 35: by Lea (new)

Lea (learachel) | 197 comments Christine wrote: "The origins are interesting. I found this on flirt-gill:

flirt (n.) 1540s, "joke, jest, stroke of wit, contemptuous remark," from flirt (v.). By 1560s as "a pert young hussey" [Johnson], and Shake..."

I learned a new Scottish word now too - fliskmahoy! Love it!

message 36: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments That is a great one!

message 37: by scherzo♫ (last edited Sep 11, 2015 05:28PM) (new)

scherzo♫ (pjreads) | 270 comments Interesting Ngram viewer chart based on searching Google books shows highest frequency for "fret" around 1600 and recent increase in use of "worry".

Worry vs Fret Ngram

(Info about Google Ngram Viewer)

message 38: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments I did not know about Ngram, interesting!

message 39: by B. P. (new)

B. P. Rinehart (ken_moten) | 72 comments Though I am late to the party, I would have to say with others who have commented that "worrying" was a thing in Shakespeare's day. I don't know a Shakespeare play where someone does not worry. This is an odd thing, that the author of the article seems to be suggesting, that the absence of a word is the absence of the conditions that the word would describe (in a modern or ancient sense).

message 40: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod
Great stuff here in these comments!

message 41: by Leo (new)

Leo Dodlek | 2 comments Hey, I buyed me this t-shirt! Maroon color looks kinda nice! :D

This year is 400! years since Shakespeare's death!
Lets celebrate all together his legacy!

message 42: by Christine (new)

Christine | 433 comments Cute one, Leo!

Here in Chicago, we have a big celebration going on:

message 43: by Leo (new)

Leo Dodlek | 2 comments Nice, I see there will be a huge Celebration with so much events...
really nice, I wish i could come to Chicago. Maybe I will!
Christine, can you share this T-shirt design with all your shakespeare fan friends? Thank you.

message 44: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 170 comments Hi everyone. Is that glare thing holding us up? It doesn't seem to affect me - maybe it doesn't cross the Atlantic (I'm in UK). I don't know how many of us there are in this group but if it's not many and this is really holding us up, how about we start a simple email group outside it till it's fixed?
On Henry IV I've got another question: What's Shakespeare's attitude to war in that first long speech by the king? At first the king seems to hate bloodshed and yearn for peace - then it seems it's so that he can go on a crusade and wage war against the 'infidel'. Is this satirical?

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