ground·​ling | \ ˈgrau̇n(d)-liŋ How to pronounce groundling (audio) \

Definition of groundling

1a : a spectator who stood in the pit of an Elizabethan theater
b : a person of unsophisticated taste
2 : one that lives or works on or near the ground

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Did You Know?

In Elizabethan times, play-going audiences were a diverse bunch. In the upper gallery, the wealthier patrons fanned themselves and looked with disdain at those who could only afford the penny admission to the pit below. Pit spectators had to sit or stand in close proximity on the bare floor, exposed to the sweltering sun or the dampening rain. At times, they behaved less than decorously, and they reportedly emitted a less than pleasant odor. The pit was also called the ground; those in it were groundlings. Today, we use groundlings to refer not only to the less than couth among us, but also (often with some facetiousness) to ordinary Janes or Joes.

Examples of groundling in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Aimed straight at the groundlings, this rousing drinking song is pure silly fun, with Sir Toby Belch (Shuler Hensley) and the gang trading late-night insults. New York Times, "A Cast Album I Love: ‘Twelfth Night’," 22 Apr. 2020 His creations scared the crap out of groundlings and aristocrats alike, including the Queen of Denmark and the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Meiningen. James Marcus, The New Yorker, "A Dark Ride," 29 Oct. 2019 Those onstage, like Feste and Puck before them, mocked their patrons, played to the groundlings, but spoke honestly of broader uncertainties. Ian Malone, Vogue, "Inside the Premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latest Production, Freestyle Love Supreme," 3 Oct. 2019 This collision of classes is an old promise of the theatre, all the way back to Shakespeare’s Globe, where the court and the groundlings watched the same actors perform the same play—while also watching each other. Helen Lewis, The Atlantic, "The Nostalgic End of Fleabag," 30 Aug. 2019 Goslings and ducklings are baby birds, but a groundling is an uncritical or unrefined person (too poor to pay for a seat in Renaissance theaters) and a changeling is a child exchanged by fairies, or any kind of replacement of inferior value. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, "When good words turn bad," 28 June 2018 The section of the theater where the groundlings stand? Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "‘Will’ on TNT: A Punk-Rock Shakespeare, Striving and Stage-Diving in the Big City," 28 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'groundling.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of groundling

1602, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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The first known use of groundling was in 1602

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Last Updated

4 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Groundling.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jul. 2020.

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