Old words and phrases translated

A Shakespeare (1582-1616)  troupe will be in Pella this week. I must confess, I find Shakespeare’s comedies really funny. The wording is hard to understand sometimes though because commonly used colloquial phrases have changed quite a lot. In honor of this, I’ve put together a list of words and phrases used back in the 16-1700s. I got these not from Shakespeare but from a play called She Would and She Would Not by Colley Cibber 1671-1757. (This play caught my eye because it has a strong female lead character who was one of Dora Jordan’s greatest roles.) Can you figure out what they mean? What phrases of today will be confusing to future generations? Have I missed any of your favorites?


2. Artful vs artless

3. I’ll Break no square

4. Quotha

5. Odzooks

6. Puppy

7. How now?

Ready for the answers?


  1. Pry’thee also prithee means “pray thee”. It sounds nice. Almost like please. But it was more like WTF.
  2. Artful vs artless We’ve all heard of Artful Dodger. Someone artful is shrewd, crafty, skilled. Artless sounds like the person would be a clod but it means without deceit, innocent, natural.
  3. I’ll Break no square– my best guess is that this means I’ll not step out of line or formation.
  4. quota “quoth he” but not particularly nice, kind of like “so he says” or “yeah right”
  5. odzooks  similar to gadzooks (aka “yikes”)  meaning God’s hook or the nails that held Christ to the cross. Creepy, don’t you think?
  6. puppy can mean a vain young man, a puppet, or a dog, the former in She Would and She Would Not 
  7. How now? means “what” or more often, “what’s up?”. Famously used to show skill in elocution as in How now brown cow?”



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