Comparing two works so vastly different such as Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and the 1992 Blockbuster film Encino Man can be quite a feat. The use of language alone presents many challenges. William Shakespeare is known as the father of the English language because he broke so many of the rules of language during the Elizabethan era. For instance, he invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original (Mabilard). A word such as gossip was well-known, but mainly used as a noun; however he turned it from a noun into a verb in The Comedy of Errors:
“With all my heart, I’ll gossip at this feast.” (411)
“Will you walk in to see their gossiping?” (423)
Other instances of pragmatic change created by Shakespeare include the phrase “to hurry”. In The Comedy of Errors we see Shakespeare morph that phrase into a new word:
“That desperately he hurried through the street.” (142)
William Shakespeare was the king of words and the master of lining words, intertwining them, toying with them and using them in unusual ways, functions and forms (Grebanier). As a result of his writing style we see the birth of the modern English language with his use of vocabulary, syntax, and morphology.
The Comedy of Errors is a classic Shakespearean slapstick comedy full of comical dramaand mistaken identities that tells the story of identical twins separated at birth. The story unfolds over the course of several hilarious events involving wrongful accusations, seductions, beatings, and even an arrest. The play ultimately ends on a happy note with the twins being reunited.
Set in the city of Ephesus in Greece, The Comedy of Errors takes place somewhere between 1589 and 1595 as it references wars of succession in France. It is speculated that the play was written in 1594, although it was not published to print until 1623. All of Shakespeare’s work was written during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era and the language used mirrors thisfact. The medieval renaissance reached its peak during the Elizabethan era, and heavily influenced the content of Shakespeare’s plays. Another source of influence in Shakespeare’s writing was the Bible and the teachings of the church. (Ford)
He found inspiration for The Comedy of Errors in scripture that provides guidance as to how masters and servants, husbands and wives, and parents and children are meant to interact; and their responsibility to each other (Ribner). The most obvious influence of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors was Plautus’s comedy The Menaechmi; one of the most popular plays of the 16th century. Shakespeare does make several changes to the play and adds more characters; a sister, parents and a neglected wife. He also adds a second set of identical twins. These choices were heavily influenced by his personal experiences with twins. After his wife Anne gave birth to their twins, Judith and Hamnet, in 1585 his fascination with their bond had an impact on his writing (Grebanier).
There is little research in regards to how the language of the day influenced Shakespeare compared to the amount of research on how Shakespeare ultimately altered the scope and shape of the English language (O’Connor). Although he wrote all of his works during the 16th century, his influence is still found in modern English today. (Denham and Lobeck). I chose a piece by William Shakespeare because he was a great manipulator of language. He was innovative and idiosyncratic with his use of vocabulary, literally creating new words and constructing new language (morphology). Words such as birthplace, rancorous, fortune-teller and laughable were coined by Shakespeare and would not exist had it not been for his work. Common phrases we use today that were birthed from his pen include, “’Tis high time”, meaning that something long overdue is about to happen. “Something in the wind” refers to a secret plan in the making, and alludes to a scent being carried on the wind. His form of writing birthed an entirely new way of speaking, writing and communicating.
Shakespeare is revered as the father of the English language; however he has also been heavily criticized. Critics in the past have pointed to his use of language, often claiming he is not using English at all (Ribner). In order to fully grasp the meaning of Shakespeare’s work you must understand his language usage. He wrote for the masses, as well as royalty, utilizing language to communicate new ideas in new ways. He used the entire stage to his advantage, often using the audience as part of the scene. Often times a character is found thinking aloud, alone; simply for the benefit of the audience (Ribner). These are called soliloquies and they often confuse readers. His characters also make comments to each other that the other characters cannot hear, called asides; again confounding readers (Ribner). However, if you study the language he uses, you begin to understand the meaning. Then you begin to understand how he shaped language forever. The same could be said of Pauly Shore. I know what you might be thinking, but give me a moment to explain.
One of Pauly Shore’s most iconic and unforgettable characters is that of Stoney Brown. Encino Man is set in sunny southern California in the early 1990’s when “being cool” was reserved for the best dressed girls and biggest bullies in school. The movie is a feel good comedy about two high schoolers; one who dreams of getting “the girl” and the other one just trying to make it through high school “untweaked” (unscathed). The idea that two teenagers accidentally unearth a frozen caveman in California, then enroll him in high school so they can win “cool points” and be part of the in-crowd is honestly a problematic plot, but Pauly Shore’s character, Stoney, makes you forget about all of that. Plus, Brendan Fraser’s depiction of a caveman dropped into the modern world is great.
I chose this piece because Pauly Shore’s use of language shaped my teen years. He had a way of taking common words and morphing them into great entertainment. Phrases such as “wheeze the juice” became popular in the 90’s because of the way Shore’s character pronounced the words: “wheeze the ju-ooos”. Plus, wheeze was morphed from its original meaning (difficulty breathing) and made into a way of communicating the action of sucking an ICEE directly from the nozzle, something Stoney and Dave did a lot, apparently, since they have a phrase for it.
Although Stoney’s wardrobe is seemingly influenced by the hippie movement of the 1970’s, the language used in the film is heavily influenced by the 1990’s Southern California beach culture. Words and phrases such as stoked, mellow out, babe and dude call out to a time dripping with the laid-back demeanor of the surfer hanging out on the beach, or the skater dude riding down the boardwalk on his board. Many of these words and phrases posed a problem for an older generation who could not comprehend the semantic perspective of the average teenage high school student from southern California. They would get hung up on phrases such as, “she’s clean”; meaning she is really good-looking. This phrase is a reference to a new car, i.e. cleanliness and well-built; again, confusing for an older generation, but relatable to young adults and teens that paid attention to the context and pop culture. A great example of this is found in the scene where Stoney Brown is at dinner with the entire Morgan family:
Stoney–“Mr. Morgan, if you’re edged because I’m weasin’ on your grindage, just chill. ‘Cause if I had the whole Brady Bunch thing happening at my own pad, I’d go grind over there. So, don’t tax my gig so hardcore, cruster.”
Mr. Morgan- “Stanley, speak English.”
If this excerpt had been written into one of today’s comedies it might read like this:
“If you’re upset because, I’m always taking advantage and eating your food, just calm down. Because if I had a family mealtime at my house, I’d go eat over there. So, please stop giving me hard time about it, old man.”
Notice, however, much of the humor is lost when the words are changed. The message might be clearer and easier to understand, but the impact is gone. Pauly Shore’s ability to morph words is akin to that of Shakespeare who also commonly used known words in new ways to draw new meaning.
Encino Man is chockfull of words and phrases such as “as if”, meaning the information is untrue or no one will believe it; and “hang with me”, meaning please agree with me. Other phrases such as “he is totally rude” mean he is so good-looking it is offensive; and “shut up” which can take on several different meanings ranging from please keep talking to I don’t believe what you’re saying. Taking into consideration that these phrases were used by teenagers to communicate with teenagers, and were made widely popular by pop culture, it is easy to see why our parents had such a hard time “getting it”.
Stoney Brown’s character continued to break the rules of language by adding the morpheme “age” to ends of words, providing them with a playful lilt. This small addition takes the dialogue and drives home the characters odd, yet loveable personality. Fundage is money; flameage is fire; grindage is food. The Stoney Brown character also took common words and created new meanings. Munch is to eat; cones and gonzagas are breasts. Snaked is to steal; fatty is a joint. Melon is a head; stoked is excited. Mug is a face; lame is stupid. Tweaked is hurt; beak is a nose. Crusty is hard to deal with, or old; bogus is bad; doggin’ is treating poorly. Dope and jive both mean good-looking or “cool”. Bummed means not doing well or things didn’t go my way. Chill means the person or thing is good or great. It can also be used when requesting someone calm down, “Yo! Chill bro.” Another word used quite often is nugs. At first this term was confusing because it was used in reference to males and females, so the best way to explain nugs is that it is used in reference to the opposite sex when referencing their reproductive organs or other body parts, i.e. testicles and breasts.
“He’s got a huge set of nugs.” (Referring to Matt Wilson, the bully)
“It’s your cave nug.” (Referring to the unearthed cavewoman)
Throughout the film there are several places where inflection, register and intention play a huge part in the overall message being communicated. For example, when Dave and Link are in jail after being caught by the police in a Mexican bar, Dave says, “We’re in prison and let me tell you it’s been great.” Sarcasm can best be defined as verbal irony that serves to provide ironic criticism or praise that is somehow in direct contrast to reality (Crossley, and Skalicky). In other words, Dave and Link were in fact not doing great; however the comedic flare is lost in being blunt. This unique way of speaking presented the viewer with a livelier and more entertaining dialogue.
As an MTV and film star icon of the early 90’s, Pauly Shore inserted his outrageous style into each character he played. This is evident in his pauses in the middle of words. Simple words such as bu-ddy, lo-ser, co–ver and so on. These simple pauses created a whole new level of comedy, and an endearing quality that made this movie a big hit with fans.
This character is also responsible for creating many catchphrases. In a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly Pauly Shore was quoted, “I think subliminally, every time anyone goes into a convenience store and they go to the Slurpee machine, and there’s an Indian behind the counter, it probably immediately brings them back to the time they saw Encino Man,” Shore says. “I know I’ve done it before, where I go into a convenience store or 7-Eleven, and I’ll scream, ‘No wheezing the juice!’ and they just look at me like, what the hell? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was other people who go into convenience stores and reenact that scene.”(Bierly)
I highly doubt either Shakespeare or Shore thought they were doing anything but creating comedy when they wrote and performed The Comedy of Errors and Encino Man, and yet it has been over 400 years since William Shakespeare penned The Comedy of Errors, and twenty-six years since Pauly Shore played the role of Stoney Brown, and people are still using the words and phrases they invented. It would be interesting to see if people are still using phrases such as “Yo! Chill out” or “’Tis high time” in another four hundred years. Regardless, we can see that both Shakespeare and Shore have had a major impact on today’s use of the English language.
Bierly, Mandi. “Pauly Shore Talks The 20Th Anniversary Of ‘Encino Man,’ Bud-Dy!“. EW.Com, 2012, https://ew.com/article/2012/03/23/encino-man-pauly-shore-whiskey-business/. Accessed 25 Nov 2018.
Crossley, Scott A., and Stephen Skalicky. “Linguistic Features Of Sarcasm And Metaphor Production Quality”. Aclweb.Org, 2018, http://www.aclweb.org/anthology/W18-0902. Accessed 1 Dec 2018.
Denham, Kristin E, and Anne C Lobeck. Linguistics For Everyone. 2nd ed., Wadsworth, 2013.
Ford, Boris. The Age Of Shakespeare. Penguin Books, 1993.
Grebanier, Bernard D. N. The Heart Of Hamlet. Crowell, 1967.
Mabillard, Amanda. Words Shakespeare Invented. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html >.
O’Connor, Garry. William Shakespeare: A Popular Life. Applause, 2000.
Ribner, Irving. The English History Play In The Age Of Shakespeare. 1965.