Mention the word “aglet” to children of a certain age (and their parents) and they’ll all point to the Phineas and Ferb episode that drilled the word into our heads forever:
If you have no idea, and don’t feel like clicking that, an aglet is the name of that hard little thing at the end of your shoelace that keeps it from fraying, allowing it to easily thread through the holes.
So why, I wondered, was there a post saved in my newsfeeds this morning entitled “This Post Will Change Your Life” and featuring a picture of aglets? I have several automatic services that search for Shakespeare references and save links so it’s not unusual to see random things in my newsfeed, but this was a new one.
I assume that it’s a throwaway reference that’s just noise, like how every time somebody mentions Gwynneth Paltrow they inevitably say “Academy Award-winning Shakespeare in Love actress” but I click anyway and see this:
Before the invention of buttons, they were used on the ends of the ribbons used to fasten clothing together. Sometimes they were formed into small figures. Shakespeare calls this type of figure an “aglet baby” in The Taming of the Shrew.
Wait, what? Now I’m thinking this is a humor piece and that’s a joke, praising the eternal usefulness of the aglet.
But we check these things, and, would you look at that…
Nay, look you, sir, he tells you flatly what his
mind is: Why give him gold enough and marry him to
a puppet or an aglet-baby; or an old trot with ne’er
a tooth in her head, though she have as many diseases
as two and fifty horses: why, nothing comes amiss,
so money comes withal.
Learn something new every day. In all the years I’ve been reading that play I never made the connection. Now I can just picture kids in high school being forced to read Shakespeare, glossary in hand, and thinking, “Aglet baby? That sounds like that thing on the end of your shoelace. THAT can’t be right.”