The English language definitely owes a great deal to the famous playwright William Shakespeare. He wasn’t just a prolific writer but was said to have introduced over a thousand words and phrases into the language. Most of our common words have been invented by Shakespeare after changing nouns into verbs and verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words that are entirely original.
Today, as we commemorate Shakespeare’s 458th birth anniversary, let’s look at a list of words that the writer and poet coined or adapted.
Where it’s found: Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene I
How it’s used:
SUFFOLK: Come, soldiers, show what cruelty ye can,
That this my death may never be forgot!
Great men oft die by vile bezonians:
A Roman sworder and banditto slave
Murder’d sweet Tully; Brutus’ bastard hand
Stabb’d Julius Caesar; savage islanders
Pompey the Great; and Suffolk dies by pirates.
After Shakespeare’s usage is how the word got into the English language. Bandit comes from Italian bandito (hence Shakespeare spelt it like that), which actually arrived from Italian’s descendent Latin as bannire.
According to Merriam Webster, bandit means “an outlaw who lives by plunder
especially : a member of a band of marauders”.
Where it’s found: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act III, Scene I
How it’s used:
BIRON: I, that have been love’s whip;
A very beadle to a humorous sigh;
A critic, nay, a night-watch constable;
A domineering pedant o’er the boy;
Than whom no mortal so magnificent!
The word critic originally comes from the Middle French word critique, which in turn arrived in the language of Charlemagne (Charles the Great, the first Holy Roman Emperor) from the Latin criticus.
According to Merriam Webster, critic means “one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances”.
Where it’s found: As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
How it’s used:
JACQUES: And then he drew a dial from his poke,
And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, ‘It is ten o’clock:
Thus we may see,’ quoth he, ‘how the world wags.’
Lustre has Romantic roots. It comes from a Middle French word lustre, meaning gloss or radiance, which is common in other Romantic languages. Spanish and Portuguese have lustre, Romanian has lustru, and Italian has lustro.
According to Merriam Webster, lacklustre means “lacking in sheen, brilliance, or vitality”.
A watchdog was originally a dog that kept watch, and the word’s first recorded use was in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.
How it’s used in The Tempest:
PROSPERO: The watch-dogs bark!
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
This word is often used to describe a group, this term can also be used to describe a person that watches over a particular company or industry. According to Cambridge Dictionary, “a person or organisation responsible for making certain that companies obey particular standards and do not act illegally”.
Peruse comes from an old word in Middle English, perusen, which meant ‘to use up.’ The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest reference dates to the late 15th century, when the word meant, to go through or examine a number of things one by one, or to use up or wear out something.
According to Merriam Webster, the word means “to examine or consider with attention and in detail or to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner”.
Shakespeare used the word peruse in Romeo & Juliet.
How it’s used:
ROMEO: In faith, I will. Let me peruse this face.
Mercutio’s kinsman, noble County Paris!
Shakespeare must have loved the prefix “un-” because he created or gave new meaning to over 300 words that begin with it. Here are a few examples: Unaware (used in Venus & Adonis, 1593); Uncomfortable (used in Romeo & Juliet, 1599); Undress (Taming of the Shrew, 1616) and many more.
Can you find out more words in English that Shakespeare invented or adapted? Do you know why we have silent letters in English? Then let us know in the comments below.
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