Will's word

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Dainty (adjective) delicately pretty, attractively presented, fastudious

All the modern senses were available to Shakespeare, but we must be careful not to read them into every use of the word. It would be possible to find the "delicate" sense in Prospero's description of "dainty Ariel" (The Tempest, V.i.95), for example, but hardly when the schoolmaster addresses the powerful Duke Theseus as a "dainty Duke" (Two Noble Kinsmen, III.v.113). Here the word means "excellent, splendid". The associations between words (the collocations) have also changed over the centuries. In its sense of "refined, fastidious" we find Costard's description of Don Armado as "a most dainty man" (Love's Labour's Lost, IV.i.145) and a countryman's description of a schoolmaster as a "dainty dominie" (Two Noble Kinsmen, II.ii.40) - neither likely collocations today. And we need to be on the lookout for ambiguity. When Richard tells Joan la Pucelle, talking about Charles the Dauphin, "No shape but his can please your dainty eye" (Henry VI Part 1, V.iii.38), he is not being nice about her eyes, but scoffing at what she has seen with them.

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