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Tudor sayings that we use in day to day life. Shakespeare's language is a big part of everything we say.

Updated on September 21, 2013

Everyday Tudor expressions:

"Square meal"

One theory behind this phrase is that during the Tudor times the 'poor' were experiencing a lot of change in their material wealth. One change was how they ate. Where before they would use the hard crust of a loaf of bread for a plate, they now used a square wooden board,or trenchers.

Getting three square meals a day would signify that you were well-off as poor people often went without food.

Richer people of the time ate off metal plates but most people of the time were poor and would use the trencher to eat.

"A cut above the rest"

This comes from the fact that most people baked their own bread. Servants would fill an oven with fuel (wood) and then burn it to heat the oven up. When it was sufficiently hot they would then add 4-6 loaves of bread (these were typically as big as a bun today). The bottom of these loaves of bread often got burnt due to the close proximity to the ash at the bottom and therefore be hard.

The loaf of bread would then be cut. This would not be done vertically like it is today but they would cut horrizontal slices. The softest piece of the bread would be the top and this would typically be given to the man of the house - he was a cut above the rest.

"Let your hair down"

During Tudor times it was the fashion for woman to wear their hair up. They usually wore them in 'wimples' - those pointed bonnets seen in paintings; their hair was piled high and pinned in these wimples.

The only time it was acceptable for a woman to 'let her hair down' was in their private quarters. Hats, wimples and other garments were disposed of. It was a sign of wanton behaviour and abandonment and was only acceptable behind closed doors.

What does it mean today?

To behave in a free or uninhibited mannor.

"Sleep tight"

In Tudor times, mattresses were secured on a bed frame with the use of ropes crossed in a grid like pattern. If these ropes were pulled then the mattress would tighten and therefore seemed firmer and more comfortable to sleep on.

Note: the expression 'sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite' was an extended expression used later on in histroy.

What does it mean today?

Sleep well

There has to be a special mention for Shakespeare

Shakespeare was a master with word play. His literature is world famous and we use it so much within schools to teach our children.

Although Shakespeare, I would say, is too hard for primary school it is always good to introduce them to such an amazing writer. This is a great way to do it.

"A sorry sight"

This was first used in the english language in Macbeth:

Macbeth: Hark! Who lies i' the second chamber?

Laby Macbeth: Donalbain.

Macbeth: This is a sorry sight (looking on his hands)

Lady Macbeth: A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.

What does it mean?

A regrettable and unwelcome feature or aspect. It is also used today to mean something or someone with an unclean or untidy appearance.

"All of a sudden"

Shakespeare liked the poetric sound to this phrase, a lot better than just using suddenly. He used it in the taming of the shrew:

Is it possible that love should of a sodaine take such hold?

If this was wrote in modern english it would read - Is it possible that love should of a sudden take such hold? This is because sodaine was a Tudor spelling of sudden.

Over time this has changed further to all of a sudden instead of a sudden.

What does it mean?

This should be obvious but all of a sudden just means suddenly.

"Fancy free"

This saying was first introduced in shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Nights Deam' :

Oberon: That very time I saw, but thou couldst not, flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all arm'd: a certain aim he took at a fair vestal throned by the west, and loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow. As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts; but I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon, and the imperial votaress passed on in maiden meditaion, fancy free.

The phrase 'footloose and fancy free' is an extended version of shakespeare's original phrase and has been used since the 20th century.

What does it mean today?

Having little or no ties or commitments.

"Fair play"

Shakespeare coined this phrase and used it in several of his plays like The Tempest:

Miranda: Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle, and I would call it, fair play.

What does it mean today?

Fairness and justice.

"Hot blooded"

Shakespeare was fond of combining simple words into exressions of poetic imagery - sorry sight, fancy free etc. This term first appeared in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Falstaff: The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on. Now, the hot-bloodied-Gods assist me!

What does it mean today?

Passionate or being quick tempered.

"Wear your heart on your sleeve"

Shakespeare used this term in Othello:

Iago: It is a sure as you are Roderigo, were I the Moor, I would not be lago: In following him, I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, but seeming so, for my peculiar end: For when my outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart in compliment extern, 'tis not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

What does it mean today?

Show or display your feelings openly for everyone to see.

"Hair stand on end"

Shakespeare used this in Hamlet:

"I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul: freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end , like quills upon the fretful porpentine."

What does it mean today?

You are frightened by something.

"More fool you"

Shakespeare used this in The Taming of the Shrew:

Bianca: The more fool you, for laying on my duty.

What does it mean today?

Said when someone has done something that is very foolish or stupid.

"Set one's teeth on edge"

Shakespeare used this expression in Henry IV, Part I:

Hotspur: Marry, and I am glad of it with all my heart: I had rather be a kitten and vry mew than one of these same metre ballad-mongers; I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd or a dry wheel grate on the axle tree; And that would set my teech nothing on edge, nothing so much as mincing poety: 'Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag.

What does it mean today?

Something that is unpleasant to eat.


"Too much of a good thing"

Shakespeare used this in As you like it:

Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand, ORlando. What do you say sister?

What does it mean today?

Excess may do you harm.

"Vanish into thin air."

Shakespeare used this in Othello:

Clown: Then put your pipes in your bag, for I'll away. Go, vanish into air: away!

He also used it in The Tempest:

Prospero: These our actors, as I foretold you , were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air.

What does it mean today?

Disappear without a trace.

"There is method in his madness"

Shakespeare used this in Hamlet:

Lord Polonius : Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

What does it mean today?

Reason behind apparent folly or disorder.

Shakespeare is hard to learn for children but they could easily have fun making their own witches chant.

Give the children the first verse and corus of the chant and then they can carry on from that to see what disgusting recipe they can come up with.

This is a great fun lesson where the children can come up with as many horrible things they can think of to place in a witches caldron. Shakespeare's Macbeth is where we find these evil witches.

Here is what I gave my children, and then they carried on from here:

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the caldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,

Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon's blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

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    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Good morning

      It is kind of astonishing that all of these years later when we are using LOL and LMAO all over the place that we still use these phrases that were created so long ago.

      The suggestion for showing children how to develop their Shakespeare-like poem may just spark interest in writing that was not there.

      Thanks for sharing. Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

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