A physical characteristic (though, I consider it a birth defect) in which the lingual frenulum (the tissue that keeps your tongue to the bottom of your mouth) extends all the way from the back of the throat to the tip of the tongue. It used to be common practice to cut this tissue, but they aparrently don't do that anymore. For me, I haven't had any kind of problems with speaking or a speech impediment, though don't even begin to ask about french kissing.

Cicero in his De Oratore was most likely the first literary to coin this adjective when he said,” I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity. “ Yet it was another playwright, simple and born of modest means; one who never held a political office, that would deepen the meaning of tongue-tied even more.

An often forgotten mein of Shakespeare's genius is that his works, as well as his words, were not just of an era, but also for all time. The etymologist Ernest Weekly said of William Shakespeare, "His contribution to our phraseology is ten times greater than that of any other writer to any other language in the history of the world." The critic Walter Pater exclaimed, "What a garden of words!" If Shakespeare had not lived and written with such a loving ear to our language, our English tongue would be immeasurably the poorer. No day goes by that we do not speak and hear and read and write his legacy. From the majestic majestic (Julius Caesar) to the visceral puke (As You Like It), he was the most prolific word maker ever to set pen to paper. Culture and enlightenment would be tongue-tied without the likes of pedant (Taming of the Shrew) and critic (Love’s Labour’s Lost).

Today tongue-tie is a layman's term for a medical condition called ankyloglossia in which the lingual frenulum is either too short or anteriorly placed limiting the mobility of the tongue.

Tongue-tied can also mean the inability to speak freely, for example, as from shyness or affected with tongue-tie. Some synonyms for being tongue-tied are: awkward, shy silent, inarticulate, embarrassed, timid, and speechless. Talkative would be an apt antonym and while not exactly Shakespeare, internet users who are tongue-tied get their message across with the emoticon :-&.

It might interest you to know that this compound adjective was used in several of his sonnets employing a variety of meanings. It's been speculated that Shakespeare began hinting around about censorship problems and put underlying meanings as to what was happening in his real world. ONe such example cited is in The Tragedy of King Richard the Third when he uses the Duchess of York as a persona in a palace conversation with Queen Elizabeth in 1593:

    Duchess. Why should calamity be full of words?
    Q. Elizabeth. Windy attorneys to their client woes,
    Airy succeeders of intestate joys,
    poor breathing orators of miseries!
    Let them have scope: though what they do impart
    Help nothing else, yet do they ease the heart
    Duchess. If so, then be not tongue-tied: go with me,
    And in the breath of bitter words let's smother
    My damned son, that thy two sweet sons smother'd. (A trumpet 'heard.)
    The trumpet sounds: be copious in exclaims.

From 1594 to 1609 Shakespeare wrote some 150 sonnets and from what I have read there is always a game afoot in a Shakespearean Sonnet. Sonnet 80 uses the word tongue-tied and begins by addressing some unknown Rival. A declaration of humility -insincere at best, since he drops subtle hints throughout the Sonnet undermining the worth of his Rival’s writing.
    O, how I faint when I of you do write,
    Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
    And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
    To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame!

    But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
    The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
    My saucy barque, inferior far to his,
    On your broad main doth wilfully appear.

    Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat
    Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
    Or, being wrecked, I am a worthless boat,
    He of tall building and of goodly pride.

    Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
    The worst was this: my love was my decay

It is a self-effacing piece that contrasts feelings the author’s of being worthless with the subject's worth in the first quatrain and it could be that “Will fully appear ing” may be an intended pun on his own name. But indeed one has to wonder in all of this tonge-tiedness, who or what exactly might be the subject of his “love” that is being cast away.

Shakespeare can hardly contain himself in Sonnet 85 as heseems to be continuing his conversation adding a description of his Rival poet.

    My tongue-tied muse in manners holds her still
    While comments of your praise, richly compiled,
    Reserve their character with golden quill
    And precious phrase by all the muses filed.

    I think good thoughts whilst other write good words,
    And like unlettered clerk still cry ”Amen"
    To every hymn that able spirit affords
    In polished form of well-refined pen.

    Hearing you praised I say `'Tis so, 'tis true,"
    And to the most of praise add something more;
    But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
    Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.

    Then others for the breath of words respect,
    Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.

By purposefully breaking the regular rhythm of this spondee Shakepeare emphasizes his idea. Shakespeare’s tangled tongue goes from mute to one word ‘Amen’ until the composer attempts to vanquish his competitor with praise. A pun upon himself as the “unlettered clerk”: not having any letters of worth to compile fine verse with, and not being as highly qualified as his Rival. The author has finished the transformation from being tongue-tied to speaking but paradoxically only speaking “in effect.” Scholars say this “able spirit’ may allude to George Chapman a English poet and dramatist of the Elizabethan era as the Rival. Chapman claimed that the spirit of Homer directly inspired him. Another expert mentions it may have been Christopher Marlowe who appeared on Southampton's scene as a dangerous rival to Shakespeare’s patronage. As proof they postulate that it was around the same time that to offset Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, Marlowe began writing his Hero and Leander. While a third person relates that he is positive the Shakespeare's unknown Rival is Francis Bacon, philosopher, scientist and advisor to the Queen.

In Sonnet 140 Shakespeare explores using the idea of being tongue tied synonymously with disdain. The source of his disdain in the sonnet is his beloved's wandering eyes and serves her with a warning of how he will betray her if she continues. His disdain is really silent patience. Being tongue-tied was well established during Shakespeare’s lifetime as a characteristic of the sincere lover. Teetering on the edge of madness and despair, pining to speak truthfully, the question is, will his threat about drama and censorship work?

    Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
    My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;
    Lest sorrow lend me words and words express
    The manner of my pity-wanting pain.

    If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
    Though not to love, yet, love, to tell me so;
    As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
    No news but health from their physicians know;
    For if I should despair, I should grow mad,
    And in my madness might speak ill of thee:
    Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
    Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be,

    That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
    Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.

At last he unties his tongue and hits the nail on the head in Sonnet 66 from A Midsummer Night's Dream around 1595 he wrote:
    Tired with all these, for restful death I cry:
    As, to behold desert a beggar born,
    And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,
    And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

    And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
    And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
    And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
    And strength by limping sway disabled,

    And art made tongue-tied by authority,
    And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
    And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
    And captive good attending captain ill.

    Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
    Save that to die I leave my love alone.

It’s plainspoken and repetitive structure reveals to the ones who would care to see that Art, something of profound interest to Shakespeare, the author, is tongue-tied.

By now you may notice that he is repeating a theme from his other sonnets: "me tongue-tied" (80); "My tongue-tied muse" (85); "My tongue-tied patience" (140). The only person in Shakespeare's world who ever gets tongue-tied is himself presenting a still and personal, as well as, powerful image of self-silence.

Perhaps in a more jovial mood with Midsummer Shakespeare puts his tongue in cheek humor to work with irony as commentary on his own profession as an inventor of fantastic stories of theater. At the beginning of the scene lovers enter, and all begin to talk about what they would like to watch as the evening’s post-wedding entertainment:

    “to wear away this long age of three hours
    Between our after-supper and bed time.
There are several choices bandied about: a song, a masque, a satirical play, and then what is described as “a tedious brief scene of young Pyramus, and his love Thisby; very tragical mirth.

Intrigued by the oxymorons in this last description; ‘Tedious brief” and “tragical mirth” the noble couples inquire further. Egeus cautions them that he has watched the play, and that it “made my eyes water, ” but with “merry tears” rather than the tears elicited by tragedy. He cautions them further that it is the work of “hard-handed men that work in Athens” rather than professional actors. Egeus then insists that the play is definitely not appropriate for royal entertainment, and that it is in fact:

    “nothing, nothing in the world
    Unless you can find sport in their intents.”
Nevertheless, Theseus of the royal couple declares,“I will hear that play,” adding that:
    “never anything can be amiss
    When simpleness and duty tender it.”
At this point in the play, it doesn’t appear that Theseus is going to make fun of the play. Then Hippolyta, the other half of the royal couple expresses her concern that it might be painful to watch incompetent players on stage, Theseus replies that he prefers “tongue-tied simplicity” to “the rattling tongue/Of saucy and audacious eloquence.” Then in a stroke of comic genius players take the stage and present an outrageously inept performance.

Frustrated with his art being tongue-tied by authority, according to one expert writing about that last scene. Shakespeare was probably protesting the changes insisted upon in another play Sir Thomas Moore by the Master of the Revels, who regarded the content as contentious. Plays performed in public theatres were often given at Court, and in the later sixteenth century the Master of Revels became the official licenser and censor of plays. Shakespeare’s lighthearted arena in Midsummer became a personal example of corrupt authority interfering with his own work. What some would call an artistic injustice.

Whether it was rivalry, disdain, or a mixture of both, Shakespearean canon is one of history’s greatest example of "art made tongue-tied by authority."


TheBabyNet Lingo:

The Place 2B:

Shakespeare, Newton and Beethoven:

Public domain text taken for Shakespearean Sonnets from The Poets’ Corner:


Tongue"-tied` (?), a.


Destitute of the power of distinct articulation; having an impediment in the speech, esp. when caused by a short fraenum.


Unable to speak freely, from whatever cause.

Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

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