Will's word

4th November 2005 at 00:00
wallet (noun) small flat holder for money, cards, etc

The modern use of the word arrived from the US during the 19th century.

It is quite a long way from the 14th-century usage, which came into the language from French, meaning a bag for carrying things on a journey, or knapsack.

Pilgrims and pedlars would carry wallets, and this type of use still has some currency today. It is how Ulysses uses the word, when he says to Achilles: "Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his backWherein he puts alms for oblivion" (Troilus and Cressida, III.iii.145).

Images of Time putting these alms into the equivalent of a modern wallet should be carefully avoided.

Shakespeare is the first recorded user of the word in an extended sense, meaning "protruding lump, bulging growth", when Gonzalo describes mountaineers "whose throats had hanging at 'em Wallets of flesh" (The Tempest, III.iii.47). The mountaineers are not folding their flesh and putting it into an inside jacket pocket.

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