Word of the Day: Jump

July 10, 2011 in Shakespeare, Word of the Day

There are two hundred and twenty five defintions of the word jump, as adjective, noun, and verb, in the OED, many of them now obsolete (compare Merriam-Webster’s three). Shakespeare only uses the word fourteen times, but the way in which he does shows a marked divergence between modern usage and his own. Personally, jump for me will always be associated with leaps and bounds. This is also true of the sonneteer Shakespeare, who writes that “If the dull substance of my flesh were thought, / Injurious distance should not stop my way; / … / For nimble thought can jump both sea and land”; and for Falstaff, describing how both Poins and the young Prince Hal both jump “upon joined stools” in Henry IV part II.

Rather less common nowadays than the sense of a jump over, away, or to something, is the meaning of “jumping” as “coinciding”. Shakespeare uses it frequently. In The Taming of the Shrew, the devious Trantio tells his fellow marriage-conspirator, Lucentio, that “Both our inventions meet and jump in one”; Viola, in Twelfth Night, recognises her brother because the elements of his story, “place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump / That I am Viola”; and the Prince of Arragon, suitor to Portio in Merchant of Venice, proves his egoism by choosing the golden cask and declaring that “I will not jump with common spirits”.

This sense of coincidence and similarity in “jump” is also found in its adjectival/adverbial usage, meaning “coinciding, exactly agreeing; even; exact, precise”. On the battlements of Elsinore, Marcellus tells Horatio that the Ghost has appeared “twice before, and jump at this dead hour”; and Iago plots to bring Othello “jump when he may Casio find / Soliciting his wife”.

Other uses of the word include: the sense of ‘chance’, as Caesar, facing down Antony’s Egyptian army, declares that “our fortune lies / Upon this jump”; and to surprise-attack, or set upon, as Coriolanus calls upon those in his public audience “That love the fundamental part of state / More than you doubt the change on’t; that prefer / A noble life before a long, and wish / To jump a body with dangerous physic / That’s sure of death without it.” However, perhaps the most memorable use of the word jump comes in what now passes as one of the bawdiest speeches in Shakespeare’s oeuvre: a rustic servant describing the not-so-innocent wares of Autolycus the courtier-peddlar in The Winter’s Tale, with a rhyme between “jump” and “thump”:

SERVANT He hath songs for man or woman of al sizes; no milliner can so fit his customers with gloves: he has the prettiest love-songs for maids; so without bawdry, which is strange; with such delicate burdens of ‘dildos’ and ‘fadings’, ‘jump her and thump her’ […]

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