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In Romeo and Juliet, Tybalt says to Mercutio: 'Mercutio, thou consort'st with Romeo.' Mercutio replies 'consort! What, dost thou make us minstrels?... Zounds consorts!' Bloodshed followed shortly.

It's very clear that the word consort here is very emotionally loaded so as to lead to murder.

What I'm interested to know is whether the word consort still carries this highly negative connotation today. If not, can it be used interchangeably with partner, associate or even friend?

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    False premise: There's some subtle punning going on, playing on consort the verb and consort the musical group, but there is absolutely no emotional loading or negative connotation involved.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 10, 2012 at 15:28
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    The verb consort has no association with minstrels, other than as a pun. (Well, technically, the noun doesn't have anything to do with minstrels, either, since minstrel denotes a particular type of performer who is not the sort one finds in a musical consort, but that's getting into niggly details.)
    – Marthaª
    Jan 10, 2012 at 17:34
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    Also, "still used derogatively" is, again, based on a false premise. The word consort was NOT, in and of itself, derogatory in the Shakespeare quote, or at any point in history.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 10, 2012 at 17:37
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    The husband of the Queen of England is referred to as "the Prince Consort." I don't know if there is a level of "polite society" beyond that.
    – Robusto
    Jan 13, 2012 at 21:00
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    Isn't this is Tybalt accusing them of being homosexual lovers?
    – user43023
    Apr 22, 2013 at 23:04

3 Answers 3

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Consort has never been an insult. It was once used as a collective noun for musicians (and there are still a few Early Music Consorts and the like), but there was never a verb form in this sense, so far as I know. Nor would calling somebody a musician normally be considered insulting. The point of this exchange is to show that the Montagues and Capulets hate each other so much that almost anything can lead to a fight, and so, (spoiler alert) Romeo and Juliet face family difficulties.

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    What do you mean by 'there never was a verb form'? To consort (with) is definitely a verb - perhaps you mean that it means to associate/agree but nothing specific to minstreling? / I suggest that consort can have a negative connotation when referring to company one keeps (consort with inferiors, a king's consort who is illicit or inferior...) so it could be used as an insult, though it would be uncommon today.
    – aedia λ
    Jan 10, 2012 at 14:49
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    @aedia: I thought my second sentence, though technically incorrect, was clear enough; obviously I underestimated the community. And both Albert and Philip were given the title Prince Consort: if you think they are inferior or illicit, I may have to challenge you to a duel. Jan 10, 2012 at 15:01
  • There was a verb form meaning ‘to combine in musical harmony; to play, sing or sound together’, but it’s obsolete. As for the noun, there has been a suggestion that the Duchess of Cornwall should be known as Princess Consort if her husband should succeed to the throne. (That alone wouldn’t stop her being Queen, but that’s another story.) Jan 10, 2012 at 15:36
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Looking at the definition here,

con·sort (knsôrt) n. 1. A husband or wife, especially the spouse of a monarch. 2. A companion or partner. 3. A ship accompanying another in travel. 4. Partnership; association: governed in consort with her advisers. 5. A group; a company: a consort of fellow diplomats. 6. Music a. An instrumental ensemble. b. An ensemble using instruments of the same family. v. (kn-sôrt) con·sort·ed, con·sort·ing, con·sorts v.intr. 1. To keep company; associate: a politician known to consort with gangsters. 2. To be in accord or agreement. v.tr. 1. To unite in company; associate. 2. Obsolete a. To escort; accompany. b. To espouse.

there doesn't appear to be anything negative about the word. I suppose its appearance in the phrase consorting with known criminals might give the impression that there is something disreputable about consorting, but don't forget usages such as "the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Consort", which is quite a prestigious title, I am led to believe.

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  • As a nonnative speaker of English I got used to words behaving strangely in the English language like the janus words for instance. So it does not strike me as odd to encounter words bearing two different connotations. And I consider the word 'consort' as an example.
    – user15851
    Jan 14, 2012 at 10:09
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If it does have negative connotations, it’s not because the word itself has a negative meaning, but because it’s found in the company of words that do. Consorting with sinners, I suspect, is more likely to be found than consorting with saints.

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    So the word itself consorts with negative words: does that give it a bad reputation? Or a negative reputation? My head hurts. Jan 13, 2012 at 12:50
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    @TimLymington: I did say 'If . . .' However, examination of corpora shows that words can be selective about the company they keep. 'Largely' and 'broadly', for example, mean much the same, but 'largely' tends to be found modifying negative adjectives much more than 'broadly' does. Jan 13, 2012 at 19:05