01 August 2018

"Nothing" was a Shakespearean euphemism for female genitalia

Explained at The Telegraph:
The familiarity of the phrase 'much ado about nothing’ belies its complexity. In Shakespeare’s day 'nothing’ was pronounced the same as 'noting’, and the play contains numerous punning references to 'noting’, both in the sense of observation and in the sense of 'notes’ or messages. A third meaning of 'noting’ – musical notation – is also played upon (eg in Balthazar’s speech 'Note this before my notes/There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.’) However it is a fourth use of the homonym – this time as 'nothing’ – that is the most controversial element of the title. 'Nothing’ was Elizabethan slang for the vagina (a vacancy, 'no-thing’ or 'O thing’). Virginity – a state of potentiality rather than actuality – is also much discussed in the play, and it is these twin absences – the vagina and virginity – that lead, in plot terms, to the 'much ado’ of the title. 
This was not something that came up in my high school or college course discussions.  More info at the TodayILearned subreddit, where the example of an "innuendo-laden" dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia is cited -
Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia: No, my lord.
Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?
Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
Ophelia: What is, my lord?
Hamlet: Nothing.
- where the word "country" also offers a obvious salacious innuendo.

More discussion at the link, with other Shakespearean citations.  Perhaps I should rewrite the title of my 2010 post Proving that "pussy" jokes are nothing new.


  1. well, i'll be...

    i was well aware of the other verbal by-play in this scene, but not the alternate meaning of nothing!

    you learn something every day!

  2. Oh fie, the bawdy bard, I blush. Lest you think that the naughty bits are popped in for the groundlings. Wm Shagsper was not above a bit of double-langue double-entendre as exposed by the bold Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V [Act III sc iv where Katharine learns English [clipped from http://shakespeare.mit.edu/henryv/full.html]
    Comment appelez-vous le pied et la robe?
    De foot, madame; et de coun.
    De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots
    de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et
    non pour les dames d'honneur d'user: . . .
    The f**k and the c**t?? Good Lord these words are bad, eeeuw, coarse, naughty and not for ladies of honour to use.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmH47UslWpc starting 3.00mins to hear Emma say nothing. Needless to say this was not emphasised when I was getting an expensive education in the 60s UK. I might have drifted into the Arts Block, had I known what shaxperian research might turn up.

  3. I believe his many puns using "sea" are a play on the letter "c", as in an abbreviation for female genitalia.

    The Hamlet/Ophelia scene reads differently in a post Weinstein world, eh?

  4. So the men get left out? Or are there so many male member mentions that it is not worth mentioning?

    P.S. These captcha verifications are getting ridiculous. I just went through 16 of those "Next" or "Verify" boxes before getting the "Check" mark.

  5. When @qikipedia shared this fact on Twitter, I responded: "Oh, wow. So many places we could take this. Fewer places we _should_ take this."

    For example:

    "Once upon a time there was a little girl called Lucy who had nothing in her pocket." -- From _Nothing_ by Donald Bisset (almost certainly innocent)


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