As the most famous playwright in the world, William Shakespeare has quite a few accomplishments. He authored 39 plays and 154 sonnets, plus two long narrative poems and various other works before he passed at the age of 52. Shakespeare has also been credited with inventing quite a few words and phrases—but perhaps not as many as you think.
There are 1,700 words attributed to Shakespeare, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is an excellent reference that attempts to source the first time every usage of a word was put in print. However, it’s likely that many of these words were already in common use, and the actual number of words invented by Shakespeare is much lower. Instead, he was simply the first to record them in a way that stood the test of time.
That number of words also includes many words that Shakespeare innovated, rather than made up entirely. For example, he was a fan of transforming nouns into verbs: “Elbow” was already used as a noun, though the Bard was the first to use it as a verb. He also liked adding prefixes or suffixes to common words: “Eye” was also a word—but Shakespeare was the first to describe it as an “eyeball.”
Still, there’s no denying that Shakespeare helped shape the English language as we know it. Below is a list of words Shakespeare invented (or innovated) that we love the most.
You must not put another scandal on him,
That he is open to incontinency;
That’s not my meaning: but breathe his faults so quaintly
That they may seem the taints of liberty,
The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind,
A savageness of unreclaimed blood,
Of general assault.
Then crush this herb into Lysander’s eye;
Whose liquor hath this virtuous property.
To take from thence all error with his might,
And make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight.
Lay couching, head on ground, with catlike watch
When that the sleeping man should stir—for ’tis
The royal disposition of that beast
To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead.
Bardolph, am I not fallen away vilely since this last
action? Do I not bate? Do I not dwindle? Why, my
skin hangs about me like an like an old lady’s loose
gown; I am withered like an old apple-john.
If he swagger, let him not come here: no, by my
faith; I must live among my neighbours; I’ll no
swaggerers: I am in good name and fame with the
very best: shut the door; there comes no swaggerers
here: I have not lived all this while, to have
swaggering now: shut the door, I pray you.
Note: The first use of "swagger" was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this usage is much more fun to read.
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium, next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse
The gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day
Is crept into the bosom of the sea;
And now loud-howling wolves arouse the jades
That drag the melancholy night
O, now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars
That make ambition virtue!
Thou cold-blooded slave,
Hast thou not spoke like thunder on my side,
Been sworn my soldier, bidding me depend
Upon thy stars, they fortune and thy strength,
And dost thou now fall over to my fores?
That last is Biron, the merry madcap lord:
Not a word with him but a jest.
The time and my intents are savage, wild,
More fierce and more inexorable far
Than empty tigers or the roaring sea.
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