Shakespearean Insults to Teach Your Class Grammar

Plenty of Shakespearan quotes and insults might sound too bawdy for kids – according to our sensitive modern ears – but there are also plenty of G-rated phrases that are fun to teach students (and get them excited about learning nouns, verbs, and adjectives).

It is well known that Shakespeare’s plays are full of words and phrases the playwright created, many hundreds of which are still in use today.

Expressions such as ‘love is blind’, being ‘in a pickle’, ‘green-eyed monster’ and ‘to break the ice’ are phrases the Bard wrote for plays almost 450 years ago that we commonly use today.

However, there are some less common – and more colourful – words that are worthy of being brought back to NZ classrooms and literature. So, we’ve compiled a whole heap to inspire your lesson plans today….

Some activity ideas:

  • In small groups, challenge students to come up with the most grammatically correct insults possible using Shakespearean turns of phrase.
  • As part of a creative writing exercise, ask students to choose one as a prompt and then write a poem or short story.
  • Develop their research skills by assigning them a word or phrase and ask them to track its different usages, finding out how its meaning has developed over time.  

Shakespearean Nouns

Mumble-news – a gossip

Churl – someone who is rude or impolite

Geck – a fool

Barnacle – someone who is tenacious and hangs around

Younker – a fashionable young man

Foot licker – obsequious, sycophant

Candle-waster – someone who sits up all night, probably studying or reading

Shakespearean Adjectives

Reeky – smelly

Odoriferous – really smelly

Artless – unsophisticated

Currish – bad-tempered

Droning – dull

Barren-spirited – emotionally numb

Lumpish – awkward

Bacon-fed – eats too much bacon

Belly-pinched – to be very hungry

Unmuzzled – someone who speaks their mind (but probably shouldn’t)

Lily-livered – cowardly

Weedy – skinny

Shakespearean Verbs

Gleeking, to gleek – to jest or make sport

To cap and knee – to remove one’s hat and take a knee, a sign of extreme respect

Beslubbering, to beslubber – to coat something thickly with a liquid, like blood or mud (or vegemite)

Bemoaning, to bemoan – to be full of sadness, to speak plaintively

To bewray – to expose or reveal

Cleaping, to cleap – to embrace (either a hug or to embrace a concept)

To disvouch – to deny the existence of something, to contradict

To boggle – to flinch, to show signs of physical fear

Constering, to conster – to give information to others, to tell a story

What are your favourite Shakespearean phrases or words? Have you tried something similar with your students? Comment below.

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Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and author of Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World, being released by Affirm Press in October 2022.
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