Will's word

27th January 2006 at 00:00

teenage; teenager

This modern-sounding word in fact dates from the mid-17th century - but not as far back as Shakespeare. He knew a much older usage, deriving from an Old English word meaning "hurt" or "trouble", and it is this, in an extended group of senses, including "distress" and "suffering", which is found in his plays and poems.

We hear it from the Nurse, when she talks about her (lack of) teeth: "to my teen be it spoken, I have but four" (Romeo and Juliet, I.iii.14); and from Miranda to her father: "To think o'th' teen I have turned you to" (The Tempest, I.ii.64).

And in the poems, Adonis complains to Venus: "My face is full of shame, my heart of teen" (Venus and Adonis, 808). The old usage is so different from the modern one that there is unlikely to be any ambiguity; but the present-day meaning can nonetheless interfere, unless we consciously put it aside. Mind you, when the Duchess of York complains of "each hour's joy wracked with a week of teen" (Richard III, IV.i.96), some parents might not see the difference!

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today