Ding dong! It’s the Bard of Avon calling

Phil Castle

My day job as editor of a business journal by necessity makes me a student of language. I use language — words on newsprint and a website — to report on businesses and business issues in the Grand Valley. Moreover, I’m always looking for the best ways to convey that information in compelling fashion.

As a student of language, I’m also a fan of a William Shakespeare and the compelling ways in which he conveyed information. There’s an undeniable beauty in Shakespeare’s works, but also so many fundamental truths about the human condition.

Were I but half as clever, I’d try to imitate the Bard of Avon. Although I’m uncertain of how that would work in a business newspaper. Imagine a story about an entrepreneur contemplating a new location for a growing venture. To build, or not to build? That is the question.

It’s tempting to make fun of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English. Bill Watterson did so ingeniously in one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. Calvin’s mom catches him as he’s running out the door and inquires: “Wither goest thou young rogue? Can there yet remain some villany thou has not committed?” Calvin answers: “Thou dost wrong me! I know not where I wander. Methinks the most capricious zephyr hath more design than I.” Those lines became something of a standing joke when I asked my two teen-aged sons where they were headed on a Saturday night.

But here’s the thing — and, at long last, my point. Many of the common descriptions or phrases people use nearly every day come from Shakespeare plays. A post that appeared on the Mental Floss online magazine enumerates some of them:

Fair play. Miranda uses this phrase in “The Tempest”

Lie low. Antonio cites this concept in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Kill with kindness. Petruchio mentions this in “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Be-all, end all. That’s Macbeth talking in the eponymous play.

Good riddance. Credit this time goes to Patroclus in “Troilus and Cressida.”

The game is afoot. The catchphrase comes from Shakespeare’s “King Henry V,” not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

But wait, there’s more.

If you’re lamenting a wild goose chase, complaining something is Greek to you or just want to break the ice, you can thank Shakespeare for those phrases. Even knock, knock jokes originated with the bard.

As envious as I am of Shakespeare’s unmatched abilities, I doubt I’ll actually try to imitate them as editor of a business journal. But as a student of language, I’m no less appreciative. The live long day, in fact.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or phil@thebusinesstimes.com.