The Excellency of the English Tongue (printed 1614)


Excellencie of the English tongue, by R. C. of Anthony
Esquire to W. C.

¶1 IT were most fittinge (in respect of discretion) that men
should first waye matters with Iudgement, and then
encline their affection where the greatest reason swayeth,
but ordinarilye it falleth out to the conntrarie ; for either
by nature or by Custome wee first settle our affection, and
then afterwards drawe in those arguments to approve it,
which should have foregone to perswade ourselfes. This
preposterous course, seing antiquitye from our Elders and
vniuersalitye of our neighbours doe entitle with a right,
I should my selfe the more freely warranted delirare, not
only cum Vulgo but also cum Sapientibus, in seekinge out
with what Commendacions I may attire our English
Languadge, as Stephanus hath done for the French and
diuers others for theirs.

in a Lan-

¶2 Locutio is defined Animi sensus per vocem expressio.
On which grounde I builde these Consequences, that the
first and principall point sought in euery Languadge is
that wee maye expresse the meaning of our mindes aptlye
ech to other ; next, that we may doe it readilye without
great adoo; then fullye, so as others maye thoroughlie
conceiue vs; and, last of all, handsomely, that those to
whome we speake maye take pleasure in hearing vs: soe
as what soeuer tongue will gaine the race of perfection
must runn on those fower wheeles, Signficancye, Easynes,
Copiousnes, |&| Sweetnes, of which the two foremost importe
a necessitye, the two latter a delight. Nowe if I can
proue that our English Langwadge for all or the most is
macheable, if not preferable, before any other in vogue at
this daye, I hope the assent of any impartiall reeder will
passe on my side. And howe I endeuoure to performe
the same this short laboure shall manyfest.


¶3 To beginn then with the significancye, it consisteth in
the lettres, wordes, and phrases; and because the Greeke
and Latyne haue euer borne awaye the prerogatiue from
all other tongues, they shall serue as touchstones to make
our tryall by.


¶4 For letters, wee haue Q. more then the Greekes; K.
and Y. more then the Latynes ; and W. more then them
both, or the French and Italians; for those Commone to
them and vs, wee haue the vse of the Greek B. in our V:
of our B. they haue none; soe haue wee of their D. and PH.
in our Th. which in That and Things expresseth both, but
of our D. they haue none. Likewise there U. wee turne
to another vse in yeeld then they cann, and as for C. G.
and I. neither Greekes nor Latynes cann make perfitt of
them as wee doe in these wordes ech, edge, ioye. Trew it
is that wee in pronouncing the Latyne vse them alsoe
after this manner; but the same in regard of the auncient
and right Romayne deliuerye altogether abusiuely, as
maye appeare by Scaliger, Sir Tho. Smith, Lipsius, and


¶5 Now for significancye of wordes, as euery indiuiduum is
but one, soe in our natiue Saxon language wee finde many
of them suitablye expressed by woordes of one syllable ;
those consisting of more are borrowed from other nations ;
the examples are infinite, and therefore I will omitt them,
as sufficiently notorious.


¶6 Againe, for expressing our passions, our interiections
are very apt and forcible: as findeinge ourselues some-
what agreeued, wee cry Ah ; yf more deeply, Oh ; when we
pittie, alas; when wee bemone, Alacke; neither of them
soe effeminate as the Italyane Deh or the French hélas.
In detestation wee saye Phy, as if there withall wee should
spitt ; in attention, Haa ; i[n] calling, whowp ; in hallow-
inge, wahahowe: all which (in my eare) seeme to be deriued
from the very natures of those seuerall affections.

tione of

¶7 Growe from hence to the Compositione of wordes, and
therein our Languadge hath a peculier grace, a like
significancy, and more shorte then the Greekes; for
example in Moldwarp wee expresse the nature of that
beast; in handkercher the thing and his vse; in vpright,
that vertue by a Metaphore; in Wisedome and Domsdaye,
soe many sentences as wordes; and soe of the rest, for
I geeue only a tast that may direct others to a fuller
obseruation of what my soddaine memorye cannott repre-
sent vnto mee. It may passe allsoe the musters of this
significancy that in a manner all the proper names of our
people doe importe somewhat which, from a peculier note
at first of some one of the Progenitors, in proces of tyme
inuested it selfe [in] a possession of the posteritye, euen as
wee see the like often befall to those whose fathers bare
some vncouth Christian names. Yeat for the most parte
wee auoyed the blemishe geuen by the Romanes in like
cases, who distinguished the persones by the imperfections
of their bodyes, from whence grew their Nasones, Labeones,
Frontones, Dentones, and such like, how euer Macrobius


coloreth the same. Yea, soe significant are our wordes,
that amongst them sundry single ones serue to expresse
diuers thinges; as by Bill are ment a weapon, a scroll,
and a birdes beake; by Graue, sober, a tombe, and to
carue ; and by light, marcke, match, file, sore, |&| praye, the

¶8 Againe, some sentences in the same wordes carrye
a diuers sence, as till, desert, grounde; some signifie one
thing forward, and another backward, as Feeler I was no
fo: of on saw I releef. Some signifie one self thinge forward
and backward, as Ded deemed, I ioi, reuiuer, |&| this, eye did
Madam erre.
 Some carry a conntrarye sence backwarde
to that they did foreward, as I did leuell ere veu; veu ere
leuell did I.

¶9 Some deliuer a conntrarye sence by the diuers pointing,
as the Epistle in Doctor Wilsons Rethorick, and many
such like, which a curious head, leasure, |&| tyme might
picke out.


¶10 Neither maye I omitt the significancy of our prouerbes,
concise in wordes but plentifull in number, breiffly pointing
at many great matters, and vnder the circuite of a few
syllables prescribing soundry auayleable caueats.


¶11 Lastly our speech doth not consist only of wordes, but
in a sorte euen of deedes, as when wee expresse a matter
by Metaphors, wherin the English is very frutefull and

to be

¶12 And soe much for the significancye of our Language
in meaning ; nowe for his easynes in learning. The same
shooteth oute into towe braunches: the one of others
learning our languadge, the second of our learning that of
others. For the first the most parte of our wordes (as I haue
touched) are Monasillables, and soe the fewer in tale, and
the sooner reduced to memorye; neither are we loden
with those declensions, flexions, and variations, which are
incydent to many other tongues, but a few articles gouerne
all our verbes and Nownes, and so wee neede a very
shorte grammar.

To learne

¶13 For easye learning of other Languages by ours, lett
these serue as prooffes; there are many Italyan wordes
which the Frenchmen cannot pronounce, as accio, for
which hee sayes ashio; many of the French which the
Italian cann hardly come awaye withall, as bayller, chagrin,
 ; many in ours which neither of them cann vtter, as
Hedge, Water. Soe that a straunger though neuer soe long
conuersant amongest vs carryeth euermore a watch woorde
vppon his tongue to descrye him by, but turne ann Inglish-
mann at any time of his age into what countrey soeuer,
alloweing him dew respite, and you shall see him perfitt
soe well that the Imitation of his vtteraunce will in nothing
differ from the patterne of that natiue Languadge: the
wante of which towardnes cost the Ephramites their
skynnes. Neither doth this crosse my former assertione
of others easye learninge our Language, for I meane of
the sence |&| wordes |&| not touching the pronounciation.


¶14 But I must nowe enter into the lardge feild of our
tongues copiousnes, and perhapps longe wander vp and
downe without finding easye way off issew, and yeat leaue
many partes thereof vnsuruayed.

of others.

¶15 My first prooff of our plentye I borowe from the choice 
which is geuen vs by the vse of diuers languages. The
grounde of our owne apperteyneth to the old Saxon, little
differing from the present low Dutch, because they more
then any of their neighbours haue hitherto preserued that
speach from any greate forrayne mixture. Heer amongst,
the Brittons haue left diuers of their wordes entersowed,
as it weere therby making a continuall clayme to their
Auncient possession. Wee maye also trace the footestepps
of the Danish bytter (though not longe duringe) soueraignty
in these partes : and the Romaine also imparted vnto vs of
his Latyne riches with noe sparing hand. Our neighbours
the French haue been likewise contented wee should take
vp by retayle aswell their tearmes and their fashions, or
rather wee retaine yeat but some remnant of that which
once heere bare all the swaye, and daylye renewe the
store. Soe haue our Italyan trauilers brought vs acquainted
with their sweet relished phrases which (soe their con-
dicions crept not in withall) weere the better tollerable.
Yea euen wee seeke to make our good of our late Spanish
enymye, and feare as little the hurt of his tongue as the
dinte of his sworde. Seeing then wee borowe (and that
not shamfully) from the Dutch, the Breton, the Romaine,
the Dane, the French, Italyan, |&| Spanyard, how cann our
stocke bee other then exceeding plentifull? It may be
obiected that such patching maketh Littletons hotchpot
of our tongue, and in effect bringes the same rather to
a Babellish confusione then any one entyre Language.


It may againe be aunswered that this thefte of woordes is
not lesse warranted by the priuilidge of a prescription,
auncient and Vniuersall, then was that of goodes amongst
the Lacedemonians by an enacted lawe, for soe the Greekes
robbed the Hebrues, the Latynes the Greekes (which
filching Cicero with a large discourse in his booke de
Oratore defendeth), and (in a manner) all other Christiane

one in

Nations the Latyne. For Euidence hereof, many sentences
may be produced consistinge of wordes that in their
oryginall are Latyne, and yeat (saue some smale varyaunce
in their termynacions) fall out all one with the French,
Dutch, and English, as Ley Ceremonious persons, offer
prelate preest, cleere Candels flame, in Temples Cloistre, in
Cholerick Temperature, clisters purgation is pestilent, pulers
preseruatiue, subtill factors, aduocates, Notaries, practize,
Papers, libells, Registers, Regents, Maiesty in pallace hath
triumphant Throne, Regiments, Scepter, Vassalls supplica-
 and such like. Then euen as the Italyane Potentates
of those dayes make noe difference in their pedigrees and
successions betwne the bed lawfull or vnlawfull, where
either an vtter wante or a better deserte doth force or
entice them therunto, so maye the consenting practise of
these nations passe for a Iust Legitimation of those bastard
wordes which either necessitye or conueniencye hath in-
duced them to adopt.

in borrow-

¶16 For our owne partes, we imploye the borrowed ware
soe far to our aduantag that we raise a profitt of new
woordes from the same stock, which yeat in their owne
countrey are not merchantable ; for example, wee deduce
diuers wordes from the Latine which in the Latyne self
cannot be yealded, as the verbes To Aire, beard, cross,
flame, and their deriuations ayring, ayred, bearder, bearding,
bearded, |&c.|, as alsoe closer, closely, closnes, glosingely,
hourely, maiesticall, maiestically. In like sort wee graffe
vppon Frentch wordes those buddes to which that soyle
affordeth noe growth, as cheiffly, faulty, slauish, precisenes.

Of Latyne
in the

Diuers wordes alsoe wee deriue out of the Latyne at
second hand by the French and make good English, though
both Latyne and French haue their handes closed in that
behalfe, as verbes Praye, Pointe, Paze, Prest, Rent, |&c.|,
and alsoe in the aduerbs carpingly, currantly, actiuely,
colourably, |&c.|

Defects of

¶17 Againe, in other languages there fall out defectes while
they want meanes to deliuer that which another tongue 
expresseth, as (by Ciceroes obseruation) you cannot interpret
ineptus (vnapt, vnfitt, vntoward) in Greek, neither Porcus,
Capo, Veruex, a barrow hogg, a Capon, a wether, as
Cuiacius noteth ad Tit. de verb. signif. ; noe more cann
you to stand in French, to Tye in Cornish, nor Knaue in
Latyne, for Nebulo is a cloudye fellow, or in Irishe ; whereas
you see our abillitye extendeth hereunto. Moreouer, the
Copiousnes of our Languadge appeareth in the diuersitye
of our dialectes, for wee haue court, and wee haue countrye
Englishe, wee haue Northern and Southerne, grosse and
ordinary, which differ ech from other, not only in the
terminacions, but alsoe in many wordes, termes, and
phrases, and expresse the same thinges in diuers sortes,
yeat all right Englishe alike ; neither cann any tongue (as
I am perswaded) deliuer a matter with more varietye then
ours, both plainely and by prouerbes and Metaphors ; for
example, when wee would be rid of one, wee vse to saye
Bee going, trudge, pack, be faring, hence, awaye, shifte, and,
by circumlocution, rather your roome then your companye, 
Letts see your backe, com againe when I bid you, when you
are called, sent for, intreated, willed, desiered, inuited, spare
vs your place, another in your steede, a shipp of salte for you, 
saue your credite, you are next the doore, the doore is open
for you, theres noe bodye holdes you, no bodie teares your
sleeue, |&c.| Likewise this worde fortis wee maye synnonomize
after all these fashions, stoute, hardye, valiaunt, doughtye,
Couragious, aduenturous, |&c.|

All sortes
of Verses.

¶18 And in a worde, to close vp these prooffes of our
copiousnes, looke into our Imitacione of all sortes of
verses affoorded by any other Language, and you shall
finde that Sr. Phillip Sidney, Mr. Stanihurst, and diuers
moe, haue made vse how farre wee are within compasse
of a fore imagined impossibility in that behalff.


¶19 I com nowe to the last and sweetest point of the sweetnes
of our tongue, which shall appeare the more plainelye yf,
like towe Turkeyes, or the London Drapers, wee match it
with our neighboures. The Italyan is pleasante but with-


out synewes, as to still ye fleeting water; the French
delicate but ouer nice, as a woman scarce daring to open
her lipps for Feare of marring her countenaunce ; the
Spanishe maiesticall, but fullsome, running to much on the
O, and terrible like the deuill in a playe ; the Dutch
manlike, but withall very harshe, as one ready at euery
worde to picke a quarrell. Now wee in borrowing from
them geue the strength of Consonantes to the Italyan,
the full sounde of wordes to the French, the varietye of
termi[na]cions to the Spanish, and the mollifieinge of more
vowells to the Dutch; and soe (like bees) gather the
honye of their good properties and leaue the dreggs to
themselfes. And thus, when substantiallnes combyneth
with delightfullnes, fullnes with fynes, seemelynes with
portlynes, and courrantnes with staydnes, howe canne the


languadge which consisteth of all these sounde other then
most full of sweetnes ? Againe, the longe wordes that wee
borrowe, being intermingled with the shorte of our owne
store, make vp a perfitt harmonye, by culling from out
which mixture (with Iudgment) yow maye frame your
speech according to the matter you must worke on,
maiesticall, pleasaunte, delicate, or manly, more or lesse,

Verse and

in what sorte you please. Adde hereunto, that what 
soeuer grace any other Languadge carryeth, in Verse or 
Prose, in Tropes or Metaphors, in Ecchoes or Agnomina-
tions, they maye all be liuely and exactly represented in
ours. Will you haue Platos vayne? reede Sir Thomas
Smith: The Ionick? Sir Tho. Moor: Ciceros? Aschame:
Varro? Chaucer: Demosthenes? Sir Iohn Cheeke (who
in his treatise to the Rebells hath comprised all the figures
of Rhetorick). Will yow reade Virgill ? take the Earll of
Surrey: Catullus ? Shakespheare, and Marlowes fragment:
Ouid? Daniell: Lucane ? Spencer: Martiall? Sir Iohn
Dauis and others. Will yow haue all in all for prose and
verse ? take the miracle of our age Sir Philip Sydney.

¶20 And thus, if myne owne Eyes be not blinded by affection,
I haue made yours to see that the most renowned of other
nations haue laied vp, as in Treasure, and entrusted the
Diuisos orbe Britannos with the rarest Iewelles of their
lipps perfections, whether yow respect the vnderstanding
for significancye, or the memorye for Easynes, or the
conceipt for plentifullnes, or the Eare for pleasauntnes:
wherin if inough be diliuered, to add more then Inough
weare superfluous ; if to little, I leaue it to bee supplied
by better stored capacityes; if ought amisse, I submitte
the same to the disciplyne of euery able and Impartiall