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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Language research uncovers Shakespeare's dirty puns

A few days ago, I posted a clip of Beowulf being read in the original Old English dialect --- it's nearly incomprehensible to modern ears.

In the same vein, research into Shakespearean dialects (just 400 years ago) is turning up some surprises.

For example, some passages which are recited reverentially today were actually bawdy jokes and sexual puns.

The best example, I think, comes from As You Like It:
"And so, from hour to hour
we ripe and ripe
And then from hour to hour
we rot and rot.
And thereby hangs a tale."
An elegant statement about time and mortality, sure. But in the original pronunciation, "hour" sounds like "ore," or "whore," "ripe" like "rape," and "rot" like "rut." The meaning we understand is still there, but the line becomes a bawdy joke — "from 'ore to 'ore, we rut and rut." It must’ve played well to a boisterous, standing-room-only crowd of drunken Englishmen in hose. —Tucker Morgan, Paris Review
More examples, including verses recited in both modern and Shakespearean pronunciations appear in this clip. It's 10 minutes long; if you just want to hear one spoken example of a pun that's been lost as pronunciation has changed, jump to 5:20: