Four hundred years after he wrote them, we still use in everyday speech the many words and phrases Shakespeare coined. He gave us so many, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to list them all here.
But two words he wrote have stopped us dead: prenzie and scamels. What do they mean?
Were they more of his 1,700-plus famous neologisms like accommodation, castigate, frugal, inauspicious, premeditated and sanctimonious?* If so, no one today knows for sure what prenzie and scamels refer to.
Or were they transcription errors? The typesetter or copyist reading from a crabbed, handwritten manuscript and spelling out for the folio something he couldn’t quite understand?
Scamels are something – possibly a sea creature or shore bird – collected for food. It’s a hapax legomenon – a word that only appears once in the entire canon of Shakespeare’s works. In The Tempest, Act II, Sc. II, Caliban says to Trinculo:
I prithee let me bring thee where crabs grow;
And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts,
Show thee a jay’s nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset. I’ll bring thee
To clust’ring filberts, and sometimes I’ll get thee
Young scamels from the rock.
Could someone have written but smudged ‘seagull’ and the typesetter not been able to make out the letters correctly? Or written scams – an archaic nickname for limpets? Neither sound very appealling for a meal.
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