Will's word

4th July 2003 at 01:00
Dear (adjective) "loved, highly regarded, esteemed"

This word has a range of positive meanings dating back to Old English, and all are found in Shakespeare, including some which are no longer current, such as "glorious", "precious", or "heartfelt". But the major problem comes with the word in its negative meanings - "grievous", "harsh", "dire" - which didn't last much beyond the end of the 18th century. Examples include Hamlet talking about his "dearest foe" (Hamlet, I.ii.182) or Prince Henry reacting to the "dear and deep rebuke" he has received (Henry IV Part 2, IV.v.141). Offences, guilt, exile, peril, groans, and other unwelcome things can all be dear. Usually, the context indicates the right sense, but we have to be careful not to be caught off guard. When Romeo realises who Juliet is (Romeo and Juliet, I.v.118), he exclaims: "Is she a Capulet?O dear account!" He isn't calling her a beloved treasure. It's a harsh reckoning.

David Crystal David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now