November 24th, 2004
Shakespearean English / amongst
by Barbara Wallraff
Lydia Rodriguez de Marko, of Dearborn Heights, Mich., writes: “You are my last hope! Years ago, while passing a bookstore in a mall, I noticed a small book with a title something like ‘Shakespeare’s Famous Quotes.’ It was a compilation of Shakespearean phrases that are common in today’s vocabulary. Needless to say, I forgot about it. But recently I saw ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ again and was struck by the many everyday phrases that originated in Shakespeare’s plays. I have contacted numerous bookstores, high-school English departments and a Shakespearean group, but no one can locate such a book.”
Dear Lydia: I’ll bet you’re thinking of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare!” by Michael Macrone. Most of this book discusses “Famous Phrases From Shakespeare” -- starting with “All the world’s a stage” (which Macrone explains “was already cliched when Shakespeare wrote” it, though of course its appearance in “As You Like It” is the reason we still remember the phrase) and ending with “the world’s mine oyster.” In between comes a cavalcade of familiar expressions, including “the be-all and the end-all,” “full circle,” “to the manner born” (yes, the original is “manner,” not “manor”), “one fell swoop,” “the primrose path,” “seen better days,” “strange bedfellows” and “wild-goose chase.”
Linda Marty Schmitz, of Waunakee, Wis., writes: “I am wondering about the word ‘amongst.’ Is it a word? What’s wrong with ‘among’?”
Dear Linda: You’ll notice I used “among” in the last sentence of my answer to the question above. Nothing is wrong with it as far as I’m concerned. “Among” is the usual form of the word. “Amongst” is a less common -- or, some dictionaries say, a chiefly British -- variant.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.