10 Words Shakespeare Invented That We Still Use Today

The Bard’s vocabulary knew no bounds.

words shakespeare invented

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. 

Related: 11 Books Inspired by William Shakespeare

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.

Outbreak

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.

Hamlet 

Eyeball

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.

A Midsummer Night's Dream 

Catlike

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.

As You Like It 

Related: 10 of the Best Books for Cat Lovers

Dwindle

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.

Henry IV Part One 

Swagger

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.

Henry IV Part Two 

Note: The first use of "swagger" was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this usage is much more fun to read.

Dawn

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

King Henry V 

Arouse

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

King Henry VI Part Two 

Tranquil

O, now, for ever

Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!

Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars

That make ambition virtue!

Othello 

Cold-blooded

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?

King John 

Madcap

That last is Biron, the merry madcap lord:

Not a word with him but a jest.

Love's Labour's Lost 

Savage

The time and my intents are savage, wild,

More fierce and more inexorable far

Than empty tigers or the roaring sea.

Romeo and Juliet 

Related: 20 Best Love Poems of All Time

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Published on 16 Mar 2020