Shakespeare introduced more than 1,700 words into the English language

Charles Betzler 5-6 minutes 2/18/2023

Did you know that William Shakespeare introduced more than 1,700 new words into the English language, many of which he invented?

The Bard of Avon used over 20,000 words in his 38 plays and 150 poems, while adding a plethora of new words to the English lexicon.

william shakespeare, poet, writer
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Why did Shakespeare create so many new words?

Scholars who study Elizabethan literature postulate three possible reasons for the Bards bountiful creation of new words.

Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter; this means that the verses are ten syllables long and alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables.

A stressed syllable has a longer, louder, and higher sound than the other syllables in the word.

But Shakespeare found that when he wished to convey a certain thought, no variations of known words would suffice and adhere to the iambic pentameter cadence.

skull, library, wizard
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How did The Bard accomplish this monumental task?

He fundamentally achieved this lofty goal by adding prefixes and suffixes to known words. In most cases, this allowed audiences to be able to understand what Shakespeare was trying to say because they would be somewhat familiar with both the root words and their literary appendages.

For example: base becomes baseless; gloom becomes gloomy; palm becomes palmy, etc.

However, there were other methods Shakespeare employed to create new words:

Poets during the Elizabethan era had a proclivity to create compound words. Take the word amber, if something is the color of amber it would be logical to call it amber-colored.

Shakespeare was well-versed in foreign languages and would, on occasion, incorporate those words into his character English speech. Subsequently, other English authors would use those words in their prose, thus making them part of English literature.

Shakespeare was fond of having his lower social-strata character attempt to speak like the upper-class, yet fail.

A classic example is the character in Henry V, Mistress Quickly, tries to describe Anne’s (Anne Bullen is a young lady at court in the play), propensity to suffer melancholy moods, however it comes out of her mouth as: “she is given too much to allicholy and musing.” When the word allicholy reappears in 19th century writing, it then became part, albeit rare, of the lexicon. 

Here are a few of the words whose first use is attributed to Shakespeare

“Alligator: (n) a large, carnivorous reptile closely related to the crocodile

     Romeo and Juliet, Act 5 Scene 1

Bedroom: (n) a room for sleeping; furnished with a bed

     A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2 Scene 2

Critic: (n) one who judges merit or expresses a reasoned opinion

     Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 3 Scene 1

Downstairs: (adv) on a lower floor; down the steps

     Henry IV Part 1, Act 2 Scene 4

Eyeball: (n) the round part of the eye; organ for vision

     Henry VI Part 1, Act 4 Scene 7

Fashionable: (adj) stylish; characteristic of a particular period

     Troilus and Cressida, Act 3 Scene 3

Gossip: (v) to talk casually, usually about others

     The Comedy of Errors, Act 5 Scene 1

Hurry: (v) to act or move quickly

     The Comedy of Errors, Act 5 Scene 1

Inaudible: (adj) not heard; unable to be heard

     All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 5 Scene 3

Jaded: (adj) worn out; bored or past feeling

     Henry VI Part 2, Act 4 Scene 1

Kissing: (ppl adj) touching with the lips; exchanging kisses

     Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 5 Scene 2

Lonely: (adj) feeling sad due to lack of companionship

     Coriolanus, Act 4 Scene 1

Manager: (n) one who controls or administers; person in charge

     Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 1 Scene 2

Nervy: (adj) sinewy or strong; bold; easily agitated

     Coriolanus, Act 2 Scene 1

Obscene: (adj) repulsive or disgusting; offensive to one’s morality

     Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 1 Scene 1

Puppy dog: (n) a young, domestic dog

     King John, Act 2 Scene 1

Questioning: (n) the act of inquiring or interrogating

     As You Like It, Act 5 Scene 4

Rant: (v) to speak at length in inflated or extravagant language

     Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1

Skim milk: (n) milk with its cream removed

     Henry IV Part 1, Act 2 Scene 3

Traditional: (adj) conventional; long-established, bound by tradition

     Richard III, Act 3 Scene 1

Undress: (v) to remove clothes or other covering

     The Taming of the Shrew, Induction Scene 2

Varied: (adj) incorporating different types or kinds; diverse

     Titus Andronicus, Act 3 Scene 1

Worthless: (adj) having no value or merit; contemptible

     The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 4 Scene 2

Yelping: (adj) uttering sharp, high-pitched cries

     Henry VI Part 1, Act 4 Scene 2

Zany: (n) clown’s assistant; performer who mimics another’s antics

     Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 5 Scene 2”