Thursday, October 25, 2007

hoist with his own petar

Hamlet (3.4.207).

man, that Shakespeare could write.


Anonymous said...

surely "petard"?

Charley Starkweather said...

I was simultaneously saddened to learn that I had been wrong all this time, and pleased to know that Willie wrote -- that what I wrote there.

Bryan Garner, maven o' usage, explains:

First, the actual line in Hamlet is "hoist with his own petar" (3.4.207). The form "petar" is an archaic variant of "petard," meaning "an explosive device used in ancient warfare to blow open a gate or to breach a wall." Thus, "hoist with one's own petard" literally means to blow oneself into the air with one's own bomb. In modern journalistic sources, "petard" outnumbers "petar" by a 66-to-1 margin. So almost every writer who uses the phrase updates Shakespeare by using "petard."

This I found cool.

I also found cool that, somewhere along the way, petard came to be associated with a lance or poin-Ted stick, when it was actually a boom boom. But I can't quote all that, 'cause Oxford University Press will chase me for copyright violation. . .

-- Chazz

Charley Starkweather said...

Okay, I'll add his other stuff:

Second, the verb is ordinarily inflected "hoist / hoisted / hoisted." But Shakespeare used "hoist" as the past participle for the archaic verb "hoise" (= to raise aloft). Most writers update "hoist" and make it "hoisted"; that is the usual form by a 2-to-1 margin in modern journalistic sources.

Third, there is a question about what preposition to use. Shakespeare's was "with," not "by." But by now preponderates by a 4-to-1 margin. Some writers mistakenly use "on," possibly from the false notion that "petard" refers to a sword or lance. Whatever the reason for the mistake, "on" makes no literal sense.

In sum, almost every contemporary writer who uses this popular phrase misquotes Shakespeare in some way -- and it would be pedantic to insist on "hoist with his own petar." The usual renderings are "hoist with his own petard" and "hoisted by his own petard." Some preference might be given to the first of those. But because the second is nearly four times as common, it shouldn't be labeled incorrect.

You can buy Garner's Modern American Usage by moseying over HeRe!

JeezusKeehRist, am I a geek . . .

Anonymous said...


Apparently I am a geek too.

mister muleboy said...

considering your web neighbourhood,

guilty as charged.

But you could be a really cool geek . . .

Bellotoot said...

A few lines later, Hamlet ruminates further on his scheme to outwit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: "But I will delve one yard below their mines And blow them at the moon ...." This too survives in an altered modern usage, which has even supplanted Shakespeare's original lines in recent, modernistic productions of the play, and is delivered as: "Bang! Zoom! To the moon!"