There is no doubt that William Shakespeare had a great influence not only in theater and films and other poets and novelists, but also in the English language, with words that we use every day. Many may not even know that it was him who invented or coined these words. Literally there are thousands of words that Shakespeare invented that we still use today. Who do you think invented the words manager, fashionable, eyeball, laughable, gloomy or lonely, among others?
William Shakespeare has knowledge of seven languages and usually made direct quotes in other languages directly in the plays that he wrote. It is incredible that he had a vocabulary of 24,000 words, the most for any writer, then and now.
Standardization of the English language
The writings of Shakespeare actually influenced the English language, as his works contributed to standardize English language rules and grammar in the 17th and 18th centuries. The words and phrases that he wrote were embedded in the language especially in “A Dictionary of the English Language” by Samuel Johnson. The introduction of new words as well as phrases had greatly enriched the English language, which made it more expressive and colorful. Some believe that Shakespeare was the first to use about 1,700 words – words that be created by borrowing from other languages, changing verbs into adjectives or nouns and vice versa, adding suffixes and prefixes and connecting other words as well as creating new ones. He had several phrases that are still very much a part of today’s language and conversation such as full circle, a sorry sight, strange bedfellow and seen better days.
Let us explore some more of the common words the world’s pre-eminent playwright created.
Gloomy was formerly a verb that Shakespeare turned into an adjective. He used this in Titus Andronicus. In Merchant of Venice, he introduced the word laughable. Majestic was from the word “majesty” that first used in the 1300s, while “majestical” was used initially around the 1570s. Shakespeare used the word majestic in The Tempest.
In the 1400s, the word “alone” was shortened to lone. From this word, he created the word lonely which he used in the early 17th century tragedy, Coriolanus. He introduced the term “radiance” in King Lear, which originated from “radiantem,” the Latin word for beaming. Hurry was a word that is found in Henry VI Part I while generous, which came from the Latin word generosus or “of noble birth” was first used in Hamlet.
Honest, worthy, proper and useful are the terms associated with “frugi” the Latin word that became frugal, which was used in a passage in Much Ado About Nothing. Critical was first used in Othello. In the 1570s, the phrase “to court” means to woo. From this word Shakespeare created the word courtship which he used in The Merchant of Venice. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, he introduced the word zany, derived from the Latin term “zani” that came for “Zanni,” a derivative of the Italian name, Giovanni. It means idiosyncratic and amusingly unconventional.
In his comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare used the word undress while rant was first seen in Hamlet. It came from the Dutch term “randten” that means talking foolishly.
Here are some more words first used in his writings:
Eyeball, moonbeam (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Puking (As You Like It)
Obscene, new-fangled (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
Cold-blooded , savagery (King John)
Hot blooded, epileptic (King Lear)
Arch-villain (Timon of Athens)
Assassination , unreal Macbeth
Bedazzled, pedant (The Taming of the Shrew)
Belongings (Measure for Measure)
Dishearten, swagger, dawn (Henry V)
Eventful, marketable (As You Like It)
Fashionable (Troilus and Cressida)
Inaudible (All’s Well That Ends Well)
Ladybird, uncomfortable (Romeo and Juliet)
Manager, mimic (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Scuffle (Antony and Cleopatra)
Bloodstained (Titus Andronicus)
Negotiate (Much Ado About Nothing)
Jaded, torture (King Henry VI)
Grovel (Henry IV)
Gnarled (Measure for Measure)
Some of the words may not have been actually invented or coined by Shakespeare but the early citations in the Oxford English Dictionary have been attributed to him because the first recorded used of the word was found in one of his works.
Image attributed to flickr.com christiNYCa