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Does bodkins in odd's bodkins mean the same as bare bodkin, which appears in Hamlet?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The Oxford English Dictionary defines (God's, ods) bodkins as 'God's dear body!: an oath' and shows bodikin and bodikie as alternate spellings. The Oxford English Reference, on the other hand, defines a bodkin as 'a blunt thick needle with a large eye used esp. for drawing thick tape, etc. through a hem' and various similar things. I believe that the previous poster's definition of this as 'a dagger (or its blade)' would be reasonable in the poetic context of Hamlet.

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I wonder how this could be the case, since the Christian God has no body - at least as far as I understand theology, which isn't all that far :-) Searching for online OED definitions just gives the needle/knife meanings, which I'd always thought was the origin of "'od's bodkins" - God/fate is stabbing me with sharp things. –  jamesqf Feb 21 at 4:03
@jamesqf: The Christian God has no body? I would disagree. Consider Jesus Christ on the cross. –  Peter Shor Jul 29 at 0:13

The Maven's Word of the Day gives the following:

Odd's bodkins is a mild profane oath, which literally means 'God's dear body!' It's now archaic, but was used as an exclamation like God damn! or a host of others.

The usual form of the second word is bodikin, which is a diminutive of body (the diminutive suffix -kin is found in such other words as lambkin). The expression occurs in Shakespeare (Hamlet: "Odds bodikins, man," with a variant reading from the Quarto of "bodkin").

Then this site tells me that:

What is the "bare bodkin" referenced in "To be, or not to be?"
A dagger (or its blade).

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The bodkin, as referenced in Hamlet's soliloquy, is a thin sharp blade, designed to pierce armor, especially chain mail.

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...derived from, and looking like, a very large sewing needle. The latter definition is still used, the former is not (at least in my neighbourhood). –  TimLymington Oct 3 '14 at 11:36

The idea that bodikin was another name for body, and that this is where the oath odd bodkin comes from, strikes me as probably wrong. The OED says, about bodkin.

Of unknown etymology: the original form in English was boydekin, boidekyn, in 3 syllables.

So bodkin and bodikin were two possible pronunciations of the same word, originally meaning dagger, in Middle English.

And while the oath Godes bodykins is attested by the OED from 1577, the first citation the OED has for bodikin meaning body (as opposed to boddikie from 1668, which I am assuming is a different word) is from 1721-1800, in the Universal Etymol. Eng. Dict. by Bailey:

Bodykin, a little body. O. [Here O. stands for "Old Word", which is Bailey's term for archaic.]

I would guess that Bailey's definition is inspired solely from the oath God's bodykin.

And where did the oath God's bodkin come from? Before this oath, there was an oath God's body, attested by the OED from 1520:

Goddis body my master what shall I do.

I suspect that God's bodykin was a minced oath for God's body, since swearing by God's dagger was presumably less blasphemous than swearing by God's body (I assume the body of Jesus Christ on the cross). And swearing by Od's dagger would be even less so.

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Um I believe that in Hamlet Shakespeare could have also been referencing the body definition. As I have heard knives described as naked blades in the case they are not covered. So Shakespeare could be saying that the body/blade of the dagger is not covered or is unsheathed.

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The question is confusing since both the odd's bodkins and bare bodkin appear in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

They do not mean the same (to finally answer the original question).

Piecing together the information from other answers (some answering for one meaning, some accounting for the other) it is clear that in odd's bodkins, bodkin means body, whereas in bare bodkin (in the soliloquy) it means dagger.

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It refers to God's bodkins (nails) that were used to nail Christ to the cross. Gadzook's or God's hooks is the same.

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Welcome to the site, @IanCoote — your answer is a very interesting, especially so because of the additional nomenclature that you offer, but some citations and an explanation of why you believe your answer to be correct would add substantively to its value. –  568ml Feb 20 at 20:21

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