Shhh – mum’s the word! 🤫 We’ve got a great new English idiom for you. Famously used by William Shakespeare, it’s an expression you can use to talk about secrets. Watch now to find out more – but don’t tell anyone!
Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between BBC Learning English and The Open University.
It was the 23rd of April. William Shakespeare’s daughter and his actor friends Robert Harley and Thomas Swann are at the Duck and Whistle. They’re getting ready for a celebration. Bess the barmaid is in charge.
Now have we got everything? Beer, ale… Where’s that Mary Bassett? She’s supposed to be bringing the pies…
Here I am, pies and all! I’ve brought some lovely meat pies and I’ve got Mr Will’s favourite here: a nice cherry pie.
Ooohhh lovely, he’ll like that, lovely…
Oh, I’m so excited Mary! I love parties! Isn’t it wonderful having a party for Father’s birthday!
Now don’t you go telling Mr Will before he gets here, Miss Shakespeare, remember: it’s a surprise. Like John Hume says in your father’s play Henry VI part II: Seal up your lips, and give no words but mum…
Thomas Swann as John Hume
Seal up your lips, and give no words but mum:
The business asketh silent secrecy.
Give no words but mum… I promise, I won’t say a word to anyone. Really, I won’t!
We’ll leave them there for now. The exact date of William Shakespeare’s birth is not recorded, but it’s generally believed that the most likely date was Sunday the 23rd of April, which, interestingly, was also the date of his death, in 1616, at the age of 52. The phrase Give no words but mum, simply means: don’t tell anyone – it’s a secret. These days, it’s usually simplified to just keep mum. Take Australian news website 9News, writing about Mark Hamill, the Star Wars actor, who spoke of how he had to keep the Star Wars storyline secret. The headline was:
Mark Hamill to keep mum amid Star Wars Skywalker speculation
Another version of the phrase is Mum’s the word.
Don’t tell anyone you saw me here. Mum’s the word!
Ssshhh everybody, here he comes now!
Quick, hide, behind the bar, get down, he’ll see you…
Good afternoon Bess, a pint of your finest… Bess? Hello? Where is everyone?!
Surprise!!!! Happy birthday!!!
Happy birthday father!
Daughter?! Is all this for me?!
Yes, father, it is!
Happy birthday Will!
Thank you, Thomas.
Happy birthday, Mr Will. Have some cherry pie.
Here Mr Will, pint of ale for you.
Well now! To party, or… no. Let’s party!