Shakespeare · Word of the week

Word of the week: trencherman

A trencherman is someone who enjoys food, a hearty eater. An archaic meaning of the word is someone who sponges off others, a parasite. I finally looked it up today, having come across it over the years and not been in a position to do so, most recently while reading Marcus Berkmann’s “A matter of facts”. I was reading it “on vinyl”, in small bursts on the journey to and from work, prompted by a couple of recent Quiz Nights. The book covers the world of pub quizzes and TV game shows and was written in 2008, when “The Weakest Link” and “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” were still broadcast regularly. I had flicked through it in the past but hadn’t read it through. It supplied one of my favourite trivia questions: what station name is shared by stops on the Paris Metro and the London Underground? (Answer at the end of this piece.)

Trencherman appears once in Shakespeare’s plays, in the opening scene of “Much Ado About Nothing”. Beatrice says

You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it:
he is a very valiant trencherman;
he hath an excellent stomach.

As usual it was this Concordance website that enabled me to find it. The word “trencher” appears a further 10 times, with references to “trencher-friends” (“Timon of Athens”) and “trencher-knight” (“Love’s Labour’s Lost”) and trenchers themselves. A trencher is a kind of plate, typically flat, without a lip (like a cheeseboard). It is derived from flat pieces of bread that people used to pile their food onto, and would then eat afterwards with sauce, or give them as alms to the poor.


The answer to the earlier question: the station name that you’ll find on the Paris Metro and the London Underground is Temple.


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