• hamlet •
Pronunciation: hæm-let • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A very small village.
Notes: So, why doesn't this Good Word mean "a small ham"? Is this where Shakespeare got the name of his Danish prince, Hamlet? Do you know the answers to these questions? Here is what I think.
In Play: The root of today's word, ham, was retained in English only as a part of proper nouns. It originally meant "home", so that Hampstead started out meaning "home place" and Hampton, "home town". "Dr. Goodword lives in the hamlet of Smoketown, not far from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania" (so named because it was once home to a smoky brick kiln).
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from a French word meaning not just "little town", but "a very little town": it is a double diminutive. Middle English hamelet came from the Old French hamelet, the diminutive of hamel "little village", itself a diminutive of ham "village". This ham was borrowed from a Germanic language, possibly Old English ham "home, homestead, estate". However, French changed the meaning of ham to "village without a church", hence hamlet. The French also adapted this word to the verb hanter "to frequent, to haunt", which we promptly borrowed back as English haunt. Shakespeare took the name of his Danish prince from Saxo Grammaticus's Historia Danica, which contained much about fratricide and incest, plus characters with Danish names of the time, such as Amleth, Ophelia, Polonius, Horatio, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. Shakespeare converted Amleth into a much more recognizable Hamlet.