Rocker Presents
Shakespeare's Invention Of The Term Mountaineers

Mountaineer (noun) one who lives in the high country; a climber of mountains.

First coined by my favorite historical author, William Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, which he wrote in 1610. The play has three interrelated plots: one concerns Imogen's love for her husband, Posthumus, and his jealousy; another involves the long-lost sons of King Cymbeline; and the third concerns Britain's challenge to the power of Rome.

In the play, the evil Cloten draws his sword against Guiderius in and insultingly demands his disguised enemy to surrender: "Yield, rustic mountaineer" (IV.ii.100. Guiderius triumphs, however, and beheads Cloten, "Who call’d me traitor, mountaineer" (IV.ii.120).

These two first uses of mountaineer occur about thirty lines after mountainers, an obsolete synonym, and are followed later in the same scene by the appearance of mountaineers in Line 370. Aside from these citations, Shakespeare uses the word only once in one other play, The Tempest, when the elderly Gonzalo tells of goiter in "mountaineers, / Dew-lapp’d, like bulls" (III.iii.44-45).

This noun adopts the -eer ending seen in older words of French derivation, like buccaneer, cannoneer, charioteer, and musketeer. The term mountaineer provokes offense in Cymbeline, because the mountainous cave country of Wales was thought in Shakespeare’s day to be inhabited by either outlaws or illiterate rustics, akin to the "hillbilly" stereotype of today.

Newer coinages ending in -eer, such as junketeer, pamphleteer, and sloganeer, often retain some of the disparaging connotations seen in Shakespeare’s mountaineer, but mountaineer itself has lost such connotations. The word now conjures up images of heroic climbers risking their lives on monumental peaks as they practice mountaineering, a sport that only originated in the nineteenth century.

Nowadays used as a name for everything from a popular sport-utility vehicle to a member of the West Virginia University athletic teams, mountaineer is identified with a recreational sense of adventure and heroism.

Let Go-o-o-o, Mountaineers!

July, 2002