Royalty is having a moment in America, thanks in part to a pair of hit Netflix series. The historical drama The Crown and the romantic romp Bridgerton serve up royal relationships, rigid class strata, and (most important) palace intrigue — perfect escapist viewing for dispiriting times. It turns out that my parents were on-trend when they devoted an entire chapter to royal expressions in their new book, So to Speak: 11,000 Expressions That’ll Knock Your Socks Off. From drama queen to king’s ransom to royal pain, these phrases come in handy when we’re looking to fancy something up (an emperor’s meal) or knock it down a peg with sarcasm (yes, your highness). Here’s a look at a few favorite royal expressions from So to Speak and what they reveal about these two regal soap operas. Warning: Mild spoiler alerts!
Originally coined to describe the hero of Charles Perrault’s Cinderella, the phrase is turned upside down by The Crown’s often-insufferable men. A sulky Prince Phillip struggles to accept Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne and the subordinate role that leaves for him. (“Are you my wife or my queen?” Philip asks. “I’m both,” she deftly replies.) Later, their son Prince Charles is anything but charming as he turns his back on Princess Diana after their wedding, moving to his country estate, traveling to Africa, and carrying on an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Bridgerton’s prince, Friedrich, is not much of a charmer either. He not only fails to win the affections of Daphne Bridgerton, but he also gets some royal salt rubbed on his wounded heart when his aunt, Queen Charlotte, insists, “You are the Prince. Charm her.” The winning suitor, Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, gets the girl but doesn’t possess a courtly manner, either, showing little interest in marrying or continuing his noble line. This duke is also not above, well, duking it out — another regal expression from So to Speak. In a memorable episode, the duke beats up one of Daphne’s suitors. (The origin of dukes as fists? Back in the day, fork was slang for fist. Etymologists believe that the rhyming slang for fork — Duke of York — was shortened to duke.)
This expression, used to describe someone who responds to situations in an overly emotional way, fits both The Crown’s rebellious Princess Margaret and Bridgerton’s high-strung matriarch Lady Portia Featherington to a tee. The phrase also recalls the intense hoopla surrounding The Crown itself, which has received fierce pushback from some viewers and critics for its tweaking of real-life events for the sake of TV. (Its creators insist it’s a fictionalized version of history.) Bridgerton, unencumbered by any real-world royalty, is lucky to stay above the fray.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
Shakespeare’s king, complaining of his royal insomnia, utters this remark in Henry IV, Part II. And as The Crown demonstrates, the burdens of the monarchy also make for TV so dramatic it’ll keep you up all night binge-watching. After counselors and ministers question Elizabeth’s leadership early in her reign, she declares, “For better or worse, the crown has landed on my head.” Everything members of the royal family do in The Crown is colored by their regal obligations.
Expectations are high for Bridgerton’s Daphne, too, especially after Queen Charlotte taps her for greater things. At the same time, Daphne struggles with her subordinate role in the aristocratic marriage market of Regency-era England. Her older brother — the head of the Bridgerton family — tries to betroth her against her will to Nigel Berbrooke. (This odious baron is the one who later meets the duke’s dukes.)
Pay a kingly price
There is pomp and ceremony in almost every scene with Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte. Think grand entrances, constant attendants, incredible wigs. Sounds great, but there’s a kingly (or queenly) price to pay for all this: As nobility, your stately personage can eclipse your actual person, especially in The Crown. “I no longer am Albert Windsor,” Elizabeth’s father, King George, laments early in the series. “He was murdered by his older brother when he abdicated.” After George dies and Elizabeth prepares for her coronation, her mother explains the major price the new queen will pay: the demise of her own identity. “Elizabeth Mountbatten…has now been replaced by another person, Elizabeth Regina,” warns the Queen Mother. Foreshadowing her daughter’s struggle, Queen Mary adds, “The two Elizabeths will frequently be in conflict with one another. The fact is, the crown must win. Must always win.”
Next in line
This expression is all about succession, a constant theme in both shows, but especially in The Crown. When King Edward VIII, George’s elder brother, abdicates in 1936 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, George, the crown prince, ascends to the throne. Nearly twenty years later, Edward returns for a visit to Buckingham Palace and finds that many of his fellow royals are still furious. Here’s where The Crown crosses paths with the present day. Last year, Harry, the second son of Prince Charles and Diana, and his wife, Meghan, stunned the royal family by stepping down from their roles, moving to the U.S., and striving for financial independence. Yet another example of royal drama.
Royal life isn’t all fun and games, but So to Speak sure is. Packed with all kinds of expressions, figures of speech, and idioms for us language-loving commoners and more than two dozen parlor games, it’s a treat for readers of all stripes. (For a range of expression-related games, check out SoToSpeakBook.com.) With zingers like “Who died and made you king?” and “The emperor has no clothes,” the “Royalty” chapter alone offers you a chance to hold court in your living room for a new kind of family game night. That’s the kind of fun even a king’s ransom can’t buy.