Shakespeare Coined Hundreds of Words and Phrases In Use Today
By Kyle Kurpinski
Among high schoolers (and even among many adults) William Shakespeare’s writing has a reputation for being horrendously confusing. Consider this quote from The Tempest (IV, i, 51-54):
Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw
To th” fire i’th” blood: be more abstemious,
Or else, good night your vow!
I am well out of high school, but passages like that remind me why I majored in Engineering and not English Lit.
Yet, the Bard’s reputation for using baffling and “archaic” language isn’t necessarily well-deserved. Estimates vary as to the exact number of unique words found in Shakespeare’s complete works, but there is a general consensus that his plays and poetry contain approximately 1,700 words never previously seen in print, and not all of them are obscure relics like crant (garland/crown) or rigol (circle). Here is just a small sampling of “everyday” words originally given to us by William Shakespeare:
- Skim milk
If that wasn’t enough of a contribution, the Bard also created phrases such as:
- Wear one’s heart upon one’s sleeve
- Love is blind
- Good riddance
- Heart’s content
- Discretion is the better part of valour
- A foregone conclusion
Shakespeare didn’t necessarily invent all these bits of language; he wrote at a time when English was rapidly evolving and mass publishing was in its early stages, so in some cases he may have only been the first to print them. But even if he didn’t coin all these terms from scratch, most scholars seem to agree that he was probably responsible for a fair share. Confounding verses and outdated words aside, Shakespeare should be remembered for what he was: one heck of an incredible writer and a pioneer of new language. To see more of Shakespeare’s commonly used words and phrases, click on the sources below.