slings » stings

Chiefly in:   stings and arrows

Classification: English – citational

Spotted in the wild:

  • To be or not to be that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing them, end them. (TPCN Great Quotations)
  • Sovereignties are often seen in a battle arrayed in shining armor and civilizations tend to fall between these tools and suffer the stings and arrows of misfortune. (UNESCO)
  • Liberals have since the founding of this country moved it FORWARD. Unflinchingly and with tremendous courage. They have taken the stings and arrows of their fellow man and turned them into the reason for their struggle. (link)

“stings and arrows” gets 331 hits on Google

“slings and arrows”, gets 130,000 hits on Google

The original is from Hamlet’s Shakespeare, and it is a biblical reference, I believe.

On the SHAKSPER mailing list, Hardy M. Cook reports:

> But this time I got up and pulled down Harold Jenkins’s Arden edition and
checked his footnotes. Although Jenkins suspects that the line should read
“stings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” he cites no examples of the arrows
of fortune. (Neither does the Furness variorum.)
> I checked the OED1 under “slings,” and found example after example of the union
of “slingers and archers, slings and bows”–the light artillery of
pre-gunpowder warfare. Jenkins found only one example in Golding’s translation
of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. I see no need for an emendation of
“slings” to “stings.” Under “fortune,” I found no reference to “fortune’s
arrows.” […]
> Both “slings” and “arrows” had a figurative use by Shakespeare’s time (and
probably much earlier), indicating the “power” of certain abstractions. So, one
could talk about, say, the slings of conscience. Perhaps there was no
tradition in which Fortune was pictured as an archer.

See also _strings and arrows_.

| link | entered by glyphobet, 2005/02/22 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Q. Pheevr , 2005/02/22 at 4:56 pm

    If there is a biblical source for Shakespeare’s phrase, perhaps it is in Job 41:28:

    The arrow cannot make him [the Leviathan] flee: slingstones are turned with him
    into stubble.


    Since I am unable to add a new comment I’m hijacking this one on 11-Aug-2007. According to This Sunday Times article:

    What does it actually mean? Something about being buffeted by bad luck and worldly troubles, obviously. But the image is curious. Fortune, who dishes out our luck, is traditionally personified as a woman. If she has arrows, shouldn’t she have a bow rather than a sling? Why didn’t Shakespeare write: “The bow and arrow of outrageous fortune”? Or for that matter, “The slings and stones of outrageous fortune”?

    Shakespearian commentators have puzzled over this conundrum for centuries, even going so far as to suggest that the inconsistency of weapon may mean that “slings” is a printer’s error for “stings”. Now, however, we have a solution. Almost every book written in the age of Shakespeare has been made available in digitised form. So you can go to an amazing website from the University of Toronto called Lexicons of Early Modern English and type in the word “sling”. Within a second the search engine will have worked its way through more than 150 dictionaries, glossaries and word lists from the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Up pops a citation from Randle Cotgrave’s A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611), the first English-French dictionary: “Mangonneau: An old-fashioned sling, or engine, whereout stones, old iron, and great arrows were violently darted.”

    So arrows can be fired from a sling. Fortune doesn’t have a puny little hand sling — rather she is firing off a huge catapult, a mighty engine of siege warfare. Hamlet’s image in this line is as strong as that in the next, where the hero imagines battling against an entire sea of troubles.

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