Shakespearean Words Translated to Our English

Whether you’re a student who needs to learn Shakespeare for their English class or a veteran reader, chances are you’ve come across several words in Shakespeare’s collected works that confused or frustrated you. Some of them may seem made up or some may be words we are already familiar with that seem to have a different meaning in this context. The purpose of this post is to help with some of the most common Shakespearean terms that are either outdated or mean something else today. 

Let’s start with words that we no longer commonly use today…

afore — in front or before something else.

alack — an exclamation, mostly meaning “oh no!”

alarum – a call to arms.

amain – a moving object at full speed.

arras – this one may still be used today, but in case you do not recognize it, it means a hanging tapestry.

assay – an attempt.

aught – anything, anything at all. 

avaunt – a derogatory way of saying “go away.”

belike – likely to happen.

beseech – ask or implore.

bethink – think about or reflect on something.

caitiff – derogatory term for a pitiful or cowardly person.

chid – scold or reprimand.

corse – a corpse.

cozen – to trick or deceive. 

doublet – close-fitting men’s jacket during the 14th-17th centuries. 

ducat – the trade coin of Venice, currency.

durst – dared (specifically in past tense).

ere – before (only used for time).

fain – glad or pleased.

forbear – refrain from doing something.

forsooth – truly or in truth.

forswear – to give up doing something; swear off.

hap – chance or fortune.

hath – has.

hie – to go quickly or hurry.

morrow – morning.

murther – murder.

perchance – perhaps.

perforce – forced to (out of necessity).

thou – you (in a casual and informal sense). 

ye – you, you all.

yon, yond, yonder – over there.

Those words can be frustrating for anyone. The only more frustrating cases in Shakespearean texts are words that we have today but meant something different in the context of the stories you’re reading. Let’s take a look at some examples below. 

still – constantly.

sad – serious.

power – troops (in terms of arms and firepower).

physic – a cure that comes from a doctor. 

office – someone’s duties or occupation.

meet – right or fit for something.

humour – mood (whether good or bad).

issue – offspring.

heavy – sad.

gentle – honorable or noble. 

envious – with poor or ill-intent. 

discover – to make known or make others aware.

crave – to request something.

colours – the flags of an army. 

brave – general excellence. 

bootless – useless.

base – of low status or quality. 

A Fun History of Idioms: To Rain Cats and Dogs

Idioms are phrases that we use everyday and, for most native English speakers, we know exactly what they mean without having to think about it… but when you do stop to think about it, some of these phrases are pretty strange. 

Have you ever wondered, for example, where phrases like “raining cat’s and dogs” and “going off half-cock” came from?

In this blog series, we will examine various English idioms and find out where and how they originated! 

Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

This Month’s Idiom: “To Rain Cats and Dogs”

The English idiom “to rain cats and dogs” is used to suggest that it is raining heavily. The animals, cats and dogs, really have nothing to do with the meaning of the idiom. So where did this odd phrase come from?

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Where Does It Come From?

According to the Library of Congress, no one knows for sure where the idiom came from, and there are several possibilities. 

The phrase first appears in print in 1651 in a collection of poems by Henry Vaughan. Vaughan mentions a particularly well-made roof that would keep out “dogs and cats rained in shower” (Library of Congress). The following year, the playwright Richard Brome wrote “It shall rain dogs and polecats” in one of his comedies (Library of Congress). 

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Etymologists have examined several possible origins of the phrase. Here are some of the most likely theories: 

  1. In Norse mythology, Odin, the god of thunder and storms, was often depicted with dogs and wolves, symbols of the wind. Furthermore, witches were said to ride their booms during storms, and they were often depicted with black cats. The cats, themselves, became a sign of heavy rains for sailors. It is possible the idiom came from these Norse ideas and that it implied that a storm came with strong winds (dogs were a symbol of the wind) and heavy rain (cats were a symbol of heavy rain). 
  2. The Greek expression “cata doxa” means “contrary to experience or belief.” When pronounced, the phrase is similar to “cats and dogs.” It is possible that the idiom comes from this phrase and suggests that it is raining abnormally or unbelievably hard. 
  3. The Old English word “catadupe” means a “cataract or waterfall.” It is possible that “raining cats and dogs” comes from this, similarly pronounced phrase, and implies that the rain is like a waterfall.

Image by Nana Cola from Pixabay

It has also been suggested that cats and dogs used to huddle in thatched roofs during storms to get out of the rain and that they would be washed away by the storms. According to the Library of Congress, this theory is false. However, it is possible that dead animals (probably rats, rather than cats and dogs) being washed down the streets of British cities during heavy storms could have contributed to the phrase’s origin. 

A Fun History of Idioms

Woman sitting at typewriter

Have you ever wondered, for example, where phrases like “raining cat’s and dogs” and “going off half-cock” came from?

Idioms are phrases that we use everyday and, for most native English speakers, we know exactly what they mean without having to think about it… but when you do stop to think about it, some of these phrases are pretty strange. 

In this blog series, we will examine various English idioms and find out where and how they originated! 

This Month’s Idiom: “To Go Off Half Cocked”

The English idiom “to go off half cocked” or “to go off at half cock” (chiefly British) means to say or do something impulsively or recklessly, without thinking through the consequences.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the phrase as: “To do or say something without preparing for it or thinking about it.”

Where Does It Come From?


The idiom goes back to the days of flintlock firearms–like muskets, flintlock rifles, and flintlock pistols. The phrase appears in print as early as the 18th century, like in John Desaguliers’ A Course of Experimental Philosophy, which was printed in 1734, and was probably used verbally before that (The Phrase Finder).

Hand shown loading a flintlock pistol

Flintlock firearms are complicated to load, and before they can be fired, they have to be “cocked.” To do this, the loader pulls back on a metal “hammer” or “striker.” When the trigger is pulled, the hammer springs forward and creates the spark that fires the weapon. While the weapon is being loaded, they can be “half cocked.” This is like a “safety setting” so that the weapon does not accidentally go off before its user is ready to fire it. However, 18th-century weapons were very unreliable and sometimes did go off “half-cocked” by mistake (The Phrase Finder).

So this is where the idiom comes from! When a flintlock weapon “went off half cocked,” it fired before it was really ready to. In the same way, when we say someone “goes off half cocked,” we are saying they had done something before they were ready ready to or should have.


Fun Ways to Work with Words

Have you ever finished a paper and felt like you just can’t look at it any more because you’ve been staring at it for so long? Using a text editor or generator is one exciting way to get a fresh look at a paper. There are an endless number of free online programs that can help you reassess a piece that you’ve written, whether it’s a blog post, a poem, a short story, or a research paper. Two types of programs that you can run a text through, whether in its entirety or in part, are:

  • Word cloud generators
  • Up-goer five text editors

Each of these programs can give new perspectives on a piece of writing that may seem stagnant.

Word Cloud Generators

There are a variety of free word cloud generators available on the Internet. Some of these include Jason Davies Word Cloud Generator, Wordle, WordItOut, and Tagul. Below is an example of a world cloud created by running the text from our tutor bios through the Tagul generator. The larger a word appears, the more it has been used in the entered text. As you can see from our word cloud, the tutors are a bunch of people who have majors and minors and who love to write and to spend their time on a variety of activities (apparently our preferred pet is a cat). Because of this feature, making word clouds can be a fun way to see which words appear most frequently in your text. Perhaps you will realize you have been subconsciously using a word more than you should. Maybe you will be able to see that your text has focused more on an idea than you originally thought you would (which means you should schedule an appointment at the Writing Center to adjust your thesis statement accordingly!). Either way, using a word cloud generator is a great way to get a new look at your writing.

Word Cloud

Up-Goer Five Editors

There are also a number of text editors that are referred to as “Up-goer Five Editors.” After copying and pasting text into these kinds of editors, they will essentially highlight or underline any words that are NOT one of the thousand most commonly used words in the English language. This seemingly absurd concept was first made popular by a group of scientists who made a comic attempting to explain the Saturn V moon rocket using only the “ten hundred” most common words – hence the name “Up-goer Five.” In this way, it can be a very useful tool for highlighting jargon. While discipline-specific terminology is wonderful to use with targeted audiences, general papers or presentations are a different case. Works that are shared with a general audience should avoid these words – or actively define them so that audience members can understand the progression of ideas. It is important to remember, however, that a limit of only the thousand most common words is a little bit overkill, so please proceed with caution (all the underlined words in the sentence were highlighted by Up-Goer Five text editor)!

— Jason Swartz, writing tutor

Creative Writing Outlets

Here at the Writing Center, we don’t just encourage you to bring us academic writing; we also ALWAYS encourage you to bring creative writing! While creative writing is all fun and dandy, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, especially if you want your work to be seen by others.

Fear not, young grasshoppers! I have compiled a list of different creative writing outlets and opportunities that may interest you if you have a passion for (or just want to take a whack at) writing.


Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of








This is a great place to start if you have a certain topic of interest. You can probably find a blog about anything if you search hard enough (like this one about dogs wearing hats). There are a ton of websites you can use to start a blog, but WordPress and Tumblr are among the most popular.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

WordPress is fairly easy to use. You simply go to the website and click “Create Blog.” Then, you will be asked to choose a template for your content. If you want more photos in your blog, you’ll want to pick a template that allows you to create albums. If you want to have a more writing-based blog, there are templates that highlight that as well. When I studied abroad in Budapest in Fall 2014, I kept a blog about my travels and random thoughts. Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out as an example.

Tumblr is a bit different from WordPress. Users can post seven different types of content: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, and video. In addition, users can follow each other to see other content, which is able to be “liked” or “reblogged” (which is Tumblr’s version of a retweet). Users are also able to title their blog and create a theme, much like WordPress. It can even link to Facebook and Twitter so friends on those social networks can see their Tumblr posts. Those are the basics, so here’s a more in-depth how-to for Tumblr.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The cool thing about blogging is that sometimes you can actually make money from it! That’s right, people have made careers out of posting their content on the internet. That’s so 21st century, right? If you’re interested in that path, here’s a website that consists of blogs about freelance blogging (blog-ception oooOOOooo).

*Side note: check out this blog run by a McDaniel alum. She gets paid to make fun crafts or recipes with different products. How awesome is that?


In case you didn’t know, McDaniel has its own literary/art magazine called Contrast! Students are able to submit their creative works for publication, whether they are short stories, poems, photos, or other works of art. A committee reviews the submissions and votes on which ones should be published. If you are interested in more information, you can come to the Writing Center or contact Shannon McClellan (slm007) or Emma Richard (eir001).

Trouble getting started?

One of the most difficult stages in the writing process, regardless of the style, is getting started. Where do you find that inspiration to write the next great haiku? AdviceToWriters provides daily quotes to get your creative juices flowing. The site even has a post called The Best Writing Advice that compiles quotes from writers about advice given to them over the course of their careers.
If you’re interested in other creative outlets or writing opportunities, check out this list of 100 Best Websites for Writers.

Baking Up Good Writing

Surprisingly, baking and writing have more to do with each other than you might think. As a late-night stress-expelling baker and a scribble-on-the-napkin English major writer, I’ve found that my two passions actually compliment each other very well as all of my oven-on-fire moments and deliciously successful dishes have taught me invaluable lessons about writing. Here are some writing tips I’ve discovered through baking:

Read the recipe, FIRST!

I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew what I was doing and just skimmed over a recipe, only to open the oven to find that my cookies had merged into one giant cookie-sheet sized cookie or that my bread loaf never rose.

Just like in baking, we need to make sure that as writers we are reading our prompts very carefully to get a clear idea of what is expected of us. Reading a recipe or a prompt BEFORE you start will help you to identify any questions you may need to address before your paper blows up, like my oven.

Ingredients: Something to work with, even substitutions

Sometimes (because I neglected to read the recipe first), I’ve been in the middle of mixing ingredients just to realize that the recipe calls for milk, and I don’t have any. Great. Good thing I’ve learned that you can substitute water for milk, butter for margarine, lemon juice for cream of tartar, etc.

When you’re writing that paper, sometimes you’ll be in the middle and find that your thesis just doesn’t work with what you’re trying to do; or maybe your sources aren’t as relevant as you originally thought. That’s ok. You can make substitutions. Think of your drafts as opportunities to see what works best. Maybe you need to refine your thesis or swap out sources to better support your paper.

Not fully cooked? Back in the oven

My grandmother never used kitchen timers and would simply lick the tip of her pointer finger and tap the middle of the bottom of the 400° pan to check if the baking was done. She was, miraculously, never wrong. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit this super power, and I am ALWAYS checking cookies or cakes or pastries with a knife, grumbling as I have to put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.

Writing works much like baking in this respect. You’re going to go through drafts sometimes, especially with longer papers. It’s all a part of the process. Your timelines for papers will vary; you just need to be patient and conscious of your work. You should be rereading your work, proofreading, and visiting the Writing Center to keep making those improvements!

Everyone Bakes Differently

As I said, I like baking at night. It’s soothing and relaxing, and it makes my apartment smell yummy and cozy. I’m also a messy baker. I rarely use measuring tools (I’m a rely on faith type of baker), and I don’t care if flour gets everywhere. My mom can’t stand my process; she bakes much more neatly than I do, leveling off all the measuring cups and wiping up bursts of flour as they fall on the counter.

As a writer, I approach writing differently than other people too. That’s natural! Just as I need to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of how I bake, I also need to learn about what will help me be a better writer. Paying attention to your writing style needs helps you to identify weaknesses, practice strengths, and write in the best types of environments for you. So, go forth and obsessively organize your writing desk for optimal writing success or scatter notes and books around you on the floor in a mess!

Baking for a crowd

I promise, I’m actually a really good baker even though my stories have indicated otherwise. Sometimes I’m baking for me, but most of the time I bake to make yummy gifts for people or because a friend requested a certain baked good. When I’m baking for other people, I try my best to keep their tastes in mind and consider what is really going to make them excited about what I bake for them.

You also might write creatively for yourself, but a lot of the time we are writing papers for class. Keeping in mind what is going to appeal to the recipient of my baked goods also applies to writing essays because we want to be sure that while we are writing essays we are keeping the reader in mind. Come into the Writing Center to talk about reader-based prose v. writer-based prose, but basically you want to be sure you keep your audience in mind and think about what kinds of things they will need to understand your paper and what bits you want them to take away.


Those are my top 5 baking-to-writing lessons! Hooray! Just keep in mind that just as every master baker has her staff (where’s my cleanup crew?!), every good writer has his or her arsenal of support… THE WRITING CENTER! Here’s to scrumptious baking as we get closer to the holidays and amazingly well written papers as we near finals.



P.S. I’m even going to share one of my favorite recipes: Safe-to-Eat Cookie Dough!

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 c flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 c margarine

1/4 c sugar

1/3 c brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract


Pour & mix flour, salt and baking soda into small mixing bowl

In another mixing bowl, place margarine, white & brown sugars

Cream margarine and sugars together

Add and blend in vanilla

Slowly add flour mixture into the bowl until blended and crumbly

Refrigerate and share with everyone (or just yourself!)

-Shannon, peer tutor