my kingdom for a(n?) X

This is a relatively simple one that has been around for quite a while. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” speaks the eponymous King Richard in desperation as the battle turns against him in William Shakespeare’s c. 1591 Richard III.

Modern usage of this snowclone is much more lighthearted–or so I judge from the variations of X, which include book, nap, glass of milk, whore, cake, couch, goat, calf, pun, loaf, cough drop, blu-ray burner, carder, and swashbuckler’s life, among many many others. The speaker may not have his X at the moment, but

So X is most commonly a physical object, to parallel the original horse, but it doesn’t have to be (nap, pun, brogue). I believe this snowclone is still closely tied to its origins, which is to say that users know it comes from Shakespeare, and that the original X is horse. A possible limitation on X is that it start with a consonant sound–so that we don’t get “my kingdom for an airplane”. All of my top results from a Google search and a search (which may or may not be enough information) confirm this. There doesn’t seem to be a limitation on the number of syllables X may have, even though the original would have been constrained by the iambic-pentametric form of the play’s verse.

This snowclone also appears in German (“mein Königreich für ein X”), with similar variation. Xs include Ladegerät (charger), Zimmer (room), Sonnenbrille (pair of sunglasses), Brücke (bridge), and Nacht (night). German speakers also generally know it comes from Shakespeare, and seem to place the consonantal constraint on the beginning of X.

6 responses to “my kingdom for a(n?) X

  1. Shakespeare, after all, was (in the form of the Schlegel-Tieck translation) one of the important 19th-century German Romantic poets. There are many bilinguals who think that the translation is better than the original.

  2. Jean-Sébastien Girard

    In French, the Snowclone is “Mon royaume pour un X”, with a masculine noun. The feminine is much, much rarer (roughly 1 in 17).

  3. In Spanish, we have “Mi reino por un X”.
    Google offers as a prominent result a recent Argentinian movie “Mi reino por un platillo volador ” (…flying saucer).

  4. The common form in German is “ein Königreich für X” “a kingdom for X”.

    This guy says it’s because most people don’t have a kingdom to give away:

    Und doch zeigt auch solche
    falsche Wiedergabe bisweilen eine gewisse Vernunft,
    eine Anpassung an die Zwecke der Rede: „mein König-
    reich für ein Pferd,” wie es bei Shakespeare heißt,
    klingt thöricht im Munde des gewöhnlichen Sterblichen, der es deshalb vorzieht zu sagen: „ein Königreich für
    ein Pferd.” [ Behaghel, Die deutsche Sprache (1902), p100, ]

  5. And in swedish: “Mitt kungarike för en häst”

  6. Seems to me this works less well the longer the X is. ‘blu-ray burner’ sounds forced, but anything one syllable long works.

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