While you probably know at least a couple of Shakespeare’s plays- The Tempest, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear– did you know that Shakespeare actually popularised- and even invented- what is estimated to be thousands of words?
Despite the countless years I’ve spent studying Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, I never actually stopped to consider whether he had, in the process of writing them, created new words and expressions, or popularised ones already spoken but never before recorded- that is, until a couple of weeks ago during the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of his death, when I finally found out this once elusive and really interesting fact.
Today I thought I’d share with you all some of the (way too many to count) words created by Shakespeare. Granted, it might not be the most useful thing to include in your essay, but the next time you hear any of those words being used, you can impress everyone with your intellect by telling them who created them 😉
You (probably) have heard this word already, because it is still used today. In the form of meaning “Offending against moral principles, repugnant; repulsive, foul, loathsome”, the Oxford English Dictionary lists its origin as dating back to 1597 – Shakespeare’s Richard II, in Act 4, Scene I: “That in a Christian climate soules refinde, Should shew so heinous blacke, obsceene a deed”, albeit, the spelling of the word was, evidently, slightly different to its modern use.
While it’s not a common occurence to hear ‘inaudible’ being used in everyday circumstances, and indeed, the OED actually lists ‘Obscene’ as being used more frequently than ‘inaudible’ it’s certainly a word you probably will have heard (or better, used!) at some point in your life (If not, you can always take this moment to hunt down the closest person to you and attempt to use it :)). The word, meaning the opposite of audible (when something is able to be heard) derives from its use in Shakespeare’s All’s Well that ends Well, from the year 1623. Act V Scene III has the words “Th’ inaudible, and noiselesse foot of time”. As a side note, it’s interesting that Shakespeare here uses two words that mean similar things- ‘inaudible’ and ‘noiselesse’, and perhaps this repetition is used for the purposes of emphasis. Funnily enough, the other word in this line ‘noiselesse’, was also first recorded as used by Shakespeare, and is next on our list!
This word has a deeper mystery, in that it was first spelt by Shakespeare ‘Noystles’! The word originates from Shakespeare King Lear (1608) – Act XVI: “France spreds his banners in our noystles land”. What you may notice is that 15 years after its first use in the form of ‘noystles’, the same word meaning “quiet” or “silent” pops up again in another of his plays- this time in the form of ‘noiselesse’! Perhaps considering the many different ways Shakespeare signed his name, the variation in spelling should not come as too much of a surprise, especially as its semantics did not change.
According to the OED, ‘Arch-villain’ basically means “Chief villain”. The lexeme ‘arch’ actually does, in adjective form, mean’Chief’, and its first recorded use was in 1574, and later in 1597 by Shakespeare, but it was only until Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (to be more specific, Act V Scene I), that ‘arch-villain was used: “ Euen so may Angelo..Be an arch-villaine”
With this entry, I was hoping to find a word you can all use in normal sentences, for the ‘impressing people with your intellect’ I promised this list would help you achieve. The first recorded use of the word ‘Laughable’ was in 1600: in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene I): “Theyle not shew theyr teeth in way of smile Though Nestor sweare the iest be laughable”.
Finally, here’s one I hope you won’t be using in many conversations (unless you are joking), but an interesting one, especially becuase out of all these entries it’s the one we’ve all probably heard the most, whether in converstaions, on television, movies, at the theatre and in books and poetry: ‘Lonely’. Its first recorded use was in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, in Act IV Scene I: Coriolanus says “I go alone Like to a lonely Dragon, that his Fenne Makes fear’d, and talk’d of more then seene”.
It’s not only words that Shakespeare invented, but phrases too. There are even articles online about the many phrases Shakespeare invented: BBC America has a really interesting one, which you can find at: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/04/45-phrases-coined-shakespeare-450th-birthday. Out of all those, my three favourites are probably “Be-all and the end-all”, from Macbeth, “Forever and a day” from As You Like It, and “In my mind’s eye”, from Hamlet. I would definitely recommend you all to check this list out, and if you do, be sure to tell me your favourite! Simply comment below 🙂
The many words and phrases invented by Shakespeare are just another one of the countless ways he has changed the English Language and Literature, and yet another show of his immense mastery and genius. It’s the strangest thing, to realise that without knowing it, you could be using any one of the many words and sayings that originate from his beautiful writings.
Remember to keep your eyes peeled- who knows when you’ll discover that that word you use time and time again, the one you don’t really think much about, was actually invented by one of the most incredible playwrights the world has ever seen.