My Lips, My Mouth, My Tongue Are Verbed!
By Annie Martirosyan
In Shakespeare’s language, almost all parts of the body duly undergo verbing, which technically is called functional shift or word-class conversion. And the majority of these verb usurpers are Williamisms - first recorded usages in the OED (David Crystal’s terminology). The word body itself is nicely assimilated in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Theseus contradicts Hippolyta’s suggestion that what the couples are telling about their nightly experiences sounded credible enough. Here is how crisply he explains the mystery, noting that “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all compact”:
MND V.i.14 And as imagination bodies forth
MND V.i.15 The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
MND V.i.16 Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
MND V.i.17 A local habitation and a name.
Shakespeare uses lip as a verb on two occasions – in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. Both usages are highly dramatic, given the unique improvisation of lip. The manner in which Shakespeare’s most legendary heroine uses the verb lip is extremely impressive.
AC II.v.26 Antonio's dead! If thou say so, villain,
AC II.v.27 Thou kill'st thy mistress; but well and free,
AC II.v.28 If thou so yield him, there is gold and here
AC II.v.29 My bluest veins to kiss, a hand that kings
AC II.v.30 Have lipped, and trembled kissing.
True to her impatient nature, Cleopatra cannot wait until the messenger delivers up the news and rushes forth with her surmises.
In Othello, though, the Williamism lip acquires a derogatory force as Iago vulgarly puts:
Oth IV.i.70 O, 'tis the spite of hell, the fiend's arch-mock,
Oth IV.i.71 To lip a wanton in a secure couch,
Oth IV.i.72 And to suppose her chaste!
He is ardently putting into Othello’s head that no man can be sure his wife is faithful. The pejorative connotation is not so much within the verb lip as in the fact that is used by a negative character; as if that is typically how a corrupt-minded villain should put it. It is indeed ironical how Othello should react: Oth IV.i.74.1 O, thou art wise, 'tis certain.
In Measure for Measure, another corrupt-minded character, Angelo, thus soliloquises after he has supposedly deflowered Isabella.
MM IV.iv.21 …But that her tender shame
MM IV.iv.22 Will not proclaim against her maiden loss,
MM IV.iv.23 How might she tongue me?
Tongue as a verb is also used in Cymbeline in the directly deriving sense utter. On the given occasion, however, the assimilated verb obtains a more specific contextual meaning as Angelo speculates on how Isabella might petition against him, with all the shame she must be feeling now. Crystal & Crystal glosses the contextual sense of tongue as reproach, censure, berate.
A vulgar and lascivious sense of the verb mouth reminding of Iago’s lip is Othello is present when shallow-minded Lucio shamelessly accuses the Duke of lechery right before the disguised Duke.
MM III.ii.172 …I say to thee, he would mouth with a beggar,
MM III.ii.173 though she smelt brown bread and garlic.
D. Crystal glosses the contextual sense of mouth as join mouths, kiss erotically, snog. And again as with Iago, the extended, exaggerated connotation of naughtiness attached to mouth is typical of the like-minded character that utters it.
The noun mouth functioning as a verb has more than one sense in Shakespeare’s plays. Three instances of the Williamism are found in Hamlet and uttered by Hamlet alone, in the respective senses of take into the mouth, and talk pompously (see here http://www.davidcrystal.com/DC_articles/Shakespeare14.pdf) on two occasions when Hamlet instructs the players how to pronounce their lines, and once when he challenges Laertes whose verbal ostentation and the dramatic leap into Ophelia’s grave enrage him.
Foot as a verb has several senses in Shakespeare: the directly associated meaning of walk; the figurative sense of land, gain a foothold; the contextual sense of clutch within claws [referring to eagle]; and the meaning of kick, boot. The latter bears probably the richest dramatic load, prompted by the context.
Here is the infuriated Jew, haranguing Antonio, who shameless of his treatment of Shylock, comes to borrow money from him on behalf of Bassanio.
MV I.iii.113 ‘ Shylock, we would have moneys,’ you say so,
MV I.iii.114 You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
MV I.iii.115 And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
In Cymbeline, Cloten, the foolish and cowardly suitor to Innogen, swears to kill her husband, Posthumus, ravish the princess and fetch her home again. This is how impressively he is going to do all.
Cym III.v.143 and when my lust hath dined – which, as I say, to
Cym III.v.144 vex her I will execute in the clothes that she so
Cym III.v.145 praised – to the court I'll knock her back, foot her
Cym III.v.146 home again.
Hamlet is one of the Bard’s most linguistically creative plays and Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most verbally creative characters. Here is how he manipulates nose as a verb.
Ham IV.iii.32 In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger
Ham IV.iii.33 find him not there, seek him i'th' other place
Ham IV.iii.34 yourself. But if indeed you find him not within this
Ham IV.iii.35 month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into
Ham IV.iii.36 the lobby.
Hamlet sarcastically responds to the king’s inquiry where he has hidden Polonius’ corpse. The ludic resonance which governs Hamlet’s mood throughout the play is nicely at one with his verbal ripostes. By his depictive and animated nose Hamlet wants to say that in a month they will smell the dead body as they go upstairs!
A unique verbing of womb is applied by Florizel in The Winter’s Tale.
WT IV.iv.485 Not for Bohemia, nor the pomp that may
WT IV.iv.486 Be thereat gleaned; for all the sun sees or
WT IV.iv.487 The close arth wombs or the profound sea hides
WT IV.iv.488 In unknown fathoms, will I break my oath
WT IV.iv.489 To this my fair beloved.
Florizel is at a loss; he decides to leave for Sicilia to ask shelter for himself and his beloved, Perdita – the undiscovered princess whom his royal father does not accept as low-class born.
The storm rising in the young man’s soul explains his excitement and manly verbose. The remarkable verb womb is doubly impressive for it collocates not with the noun woman we directly associate with, but it is the earth that wombs, that is holds within.
So we see how a little trick like verbing nouns can do the job in matters dramatic like Shakespeare’s timeless situations. The Bard teaches us to be creative and dare with the language. ‘Tis the crooky little exceptions in language that spice up our mundane sentences and give exacter shapes to our natural thoughts - as everything else in life, for that matter.