Shakespeare Invented 1,700 Of Our Everyday Words

By Joshua T. Garcia on Thursday, May 29, 2014
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“All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one man in his time plays many parts.” —William Shakespeare, As You Like It

In A Nutshell

William Shakespeare is one of the most impressive literary minds in history—a master of theatre and poetry with no equal. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and five poetry collections, writing a total of 17,677 unique words. Around 10 percent of the words he used were entirely of his own invention.

The Whole Bushel

Out of all the words you’ve used today, at least one of them was probably invented by William Shakespeare (assuming, of course, you’ve spoken English today).

Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His early ventures into theatre are vague, but it appears he was the object of some ridicule. Soon, however, he became both an accomplished actor and dramatist. At a final tally, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and five poetry collections, writing 17,677 unique words, with a final word count of over one million. Shockingly, 1,700 of these 17,677 words were invented by Shakespeare. The first time they appeared in print or in speech was in the works of Shakespeare. No author could get away with that today, probably in any language.

Some of these words are now so commonplace that it’s a wonder how English speakers got by without them. Words like “road,” “bump,” “lonely,” or “hurry.” Other words, like “bloody” or “assassination” are such obvious modifications of existing words that it’s a wonder that it took Shakespeare to invent them. He was also the first person to use “control” as a noun, or to describe someone as “generous” or “frugal.”

If you’ve drunk any “skim milk” today, you have Shakespeare to thank for that description. It was originally used in King Henry IV, Part 1, written in 1597. The character Hotspur, an English nobleman, used the phrase “a dish of skim milk” to describe a perceived coward in Act II, Scene III.

Did you catch the “dawn” this morning? The word was first used in a sequel to King Henry IV and King Henry V, written around 1599. The word is used by the titular King Henry in one of many monologues on war.

Shakespeare also invented words like “amazement,” “hint,” “laughable,” and “majestic.” His ridiculously large lexicon, and impressive body of work, appears to some to be a bit “suspicious.” For this reason, some people subscribe to the idea that Shakespeare didn’t author all (or maybe any) of the works attributed to him—it’s the Shakespeare authorship question. The issue is complicated by the lack of original manuscripts, so as far as mainstream academia is concerned, William Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language is incomparable.

Show Me The Proof

Shakespeare Online: Words Invented by Shakespeare
No Sweat Shakespeare: Words Shakespeare Invented
The Shakespeare Authorship Controversy: The Case Summarily Stated
Encyclopedia Britannica: William Shakespeare