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I'm revisiting my old question [#167151]. The original question was about the word order: “dear my love” or “my dear love”. I hold a position that we say “my dear love”.

But when I was saying a prayer yesterday, I heard myself say “dear my lord”, and it just sounded smooth to my ear. I looked up the phrase and I found it in Hamlet by Shakespeare. That made me think, what was in my mind when I asked the former question.

The linked site above for Hamlet lists line-by-line translations into modern English and the page shows the following dialogue in Act 3, Scene 2, Page 2:

[Shakespeare] CLAUDIUS: Thanks, dear my lord. [Translation] CLAUDIUS: Thanks, my dear lord.

And my question here is not about which order is correct. Instead I wonder: If the word order was turned the other way around, when did the change occur, and why did it happen?

  • Was it commonly that way round or was Shakespeare making a point about Claudius being awkward? – mgb Dec 15 '17 at 4:02
  • In King Lear, Act 5, Scene 1, Page 1, “REGAN: I never shall endure her. Dear my lord, Be not familiar with her.” In Othello, Act 3, Scene 3, Page 8, “IAGO: Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls.” – wordsalad Dec 15 '17 at 4:05
  • In Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1, Page 11, “PORTIA: I should not know you, Brutus. Dear my lord, Make me acquainted with your cause of grief.” – wordsalad Dec 15 '17 at 4:30
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    Consider that "m'lord" is a title. – Hot Licks Dec 15 '17 at 4:58
  • That explains the translation is wrong. – wordsalad Dec 15 '17 at 5:05
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In general, the form appears to always have been "my dear X". It is now (unless you're writing a letter), and it was before Shakespeare's time. This can be seen in examples from Middle English, from this entry in the Middle English Dictionary (emphasis added):

And dele A-mong my Frendes · and my deore children.
The vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman (c1390)

Luke it be done and delte to my dere pople
Morte Arthur (c1440)

My dere sonne, I ȝef vp my sowle ynto þi hondes
Mirk's Festial (a1500)

There are also examples of "my dear X" in Shakespeare's works, as can be seen here. So why "dear my X"? Hot Licks suggests that we "[c]onsider that "m'lord" is a title". I did find some evidence that "dear my lord/lady" was used by others, e.g. here and here (but neither of these are particularly close to Shakespeare's time).

However, the bigger problem with this theory is that Shakespeare uses "dear my X" when "my X" is not a title (e.g. "dear my brother"), as you can see here. Looking into this, I found a possible explanation:

Shakespeare occasionally uses a peculiar idiomatic phraseology similar to that employed in the Italian language. He sometimes thus transposes the adjective and the pronoun in a phrase.
The Shakespeare Key

The book gives many examples of this, including "dear my brother", "dear my lord", "gentle my lord", and "good my glass".

  • This is amazingly compelling. My heartfelt thanks to you. – wordsalad Dec 15 '17 at 17:46
  • +1 yet see also my answer. I wonder how this phraseology is "similar to that employed in the Italian language". At any rate, both resources we proffer are from the 1870s. – AmE speaker Dec 15 '17 at 20:54
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The famous work A Shakespearean Grammar (1870) by E. A. Abbott (online here and elsewhere) should be consulted, even if it does not give the final word. Abbott considers that my lord is indeed at least treated as if it were one word, and likens it to the French monsieur.

On the transposition of possessive adjectives (which I suggest you read) he writes

The possessive Adjectives, when unemphatic, are sometimes transposed, being really combined with nouns (like the French monsieur, milord)

and proffers many examples, including

dear my lord

good my brother

sweet my mother

oh! Poor our sex

good your highness

good my knave

good my friends

good my mouse of virtue

Abbott writes

It is possible that this use of "my," "our," &c. may be in part explained from their derivation, since they were originally not adjectives, but the possessive cases of pronouns.

Thus, "sweet my mother," = "sweet mother of me," or "sweet mother mine."

  • Do you conclude that this phraseology is particular to the works of Shakespeare? Is it wrong for someone today to consider “my lord” a title or treat it as if it’s in one word? I can’t explain why I murmured to myself “dear my lord” while I knew that’s odd and peculiar, if not improper, because it also sounded smooth and rather natural to my ear. – wordsalad Dec 16 '17 at 0:32
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    I don't have any conclusions. And I wrote this answer mostly to give more (and perhaps different) information than is contained in @Laurel's great answer, as to Shakespeare's use. – AmE speaker Dec 16 '17 at 1:44
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    It's certainly not "wrong" to consider my lord or my love, etc as "one word" and to stick dear before it. I've made a comment about this under the answer by @Yohanes Khosiawan 许先汉. English allows plenty of artistic and grammatical license, especially in creative works. – AmE speaker Dec 16 '17 at 1:54
  • I’m delighted to have such a sweet answer. It gives much more insights into the use of language by Shakespeare on this subject. And I feel relieved about my own usage of it. – wordsalad Dec 16 '17 at 3:49

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