William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was not only a prolific writer, he is said to have introduced thousands of words and phrases into the English language. However, it is commonly suggested that Shakespeare might not have invented certain words and phrases, but rather his works are the first time the words were actually written down. The argument by many scholars is that words and phrases attributed to Shakespeare were probably spoken first. This does not discount the fact, however, that Shakespeare was a master of the English language, demonstrating great wit.
Words that Shakespeare Invented
Here are some common words that first appeared in Shakespeare’s plays and their meanings:
Auspicious – favorable; promising success; a good omen. A wedding is an example of an auspicious occasion.
Baseless – without a foundation; not based on fact. If you accuse someone of wrongdoing, make sure that you have support to back up your claim and it is not a baseless accusation.
Barefaced – shameless; without concealment or disguise. When someone tells a 'barefaced lie' it is not a very good one and you immediately know it is not true.
Castigate – to punish harshly. Sometimes celebrities and politicians are castigated in the press more harshly than ordinary citizens.
Clangor – a loud (clanging) sound. Ghosts are sometimes said to be followed by the loud clangor of chains.
Dexterously – skillful, especially in the use of one’s hands (or also one’s mind). A good carpenter can dexterously build a bookshelf very easily.
Dwindle – to get smaller; diminish. Often used to describe money. Many people’s savings dwindle after losing a job.
Multitudinous – a lot; a great number. You are in luck if you can say that you have a multitudinous amount of friends.
Sanctimonious – pretending to be very religious or righteous. Sometimes people who judge others harshly are sanctimonious.
Watchdog – a person or group that keeps close watch to discover wrong or illegal activity. A popular watchdog group is PETA, which exposes wrongful actions against animals.
Phrases Shakespeare Invented
Here are some phrases that Shakespeare is said to have invented, many of which are commonly used today.
- "It’s Greek to me" (Julius Caesar) - When you say, "it's Greek to me" you are admitting that you do not know or understand something.
- "Fair play" (The Tempest) - Follow the rules, especially in competitions or sports.
- "All that glitters isn’t gold" (Merchant of Venice) - We usually use this phrase after we discover the fact that something that looks good turns out not to be that great.
- "Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve" (Othello) - To be a hopeless romantic (or be open and honest about how you feel) is to wear one's heart on one's sleeve.
- "Break the ice" (The Taming of the Shrew) - Often when you meet someone for the first time, you "break the ice" by asking them polite questions about themselves.
- "The lady doth protest too much" (Hamlet) - If someone denies something more than once, you can say "the lady doth protest too much," meaning you think that they feel the opposite to what they are saying.
- "Clothes make the man" (Hamlet) - Although not always true, this phrase implies that how a person dresses tells you something about who they are as a person.
- "A laughing stock" (The Merry Wives of Windsor) - To be a laughing stock is to be considered a joke by many people.
- "Too much of a good thing" (As You Like It) - It is said that "too much of a good thing" (i.e. money, love, food) is not necessarily good for you.
- "In a pickle" (The Tempest) - To be "in a pickle" is to be in trouble or a situation that you cannot easily get out of.
If you want to learn more about Shakespeare, here are some great resources:
- Folger Shakespeare Library is a comprehensive resource about Shakespeare's works and his life.
- MIT has an online version of the complete works of Shakespeare
- The Kennedy Center has a lesson plan that can be used to teach a class about Shakespeare words.
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"List of Words and Phrases Shakespeare Invented." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 16 August 2018. <http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/word-lists/list-of-words-and-phrases-shakespeare-invented.html>.
List of Words and Phrases Shakespeare Invented. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16th, 2018, from http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/word-lists/list-of-words-and-phrases-shakespeare-invented.html