When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past, I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste; Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow. From When to the sessions of sweet silent thought (Sonnet 30) W. Shakespeare
Whether being dyslexic has made me more interested in words than a non-dyslexic I can’t answer, but the one thing I do know for sure is I’ve always been fascinated in where words come from originally and their history within our British language.
Like all languages, ours is a living thing that has changed over the centuries, and is still evolving as we come in contact with different cultures, and as new technologies bring with them their own words too.
During the Elizabethan era, one man added 1700 new words to our language and these words were coined by him. In total, he introduced about 17000 English words through his plays and writing. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 during the reign of Elizabeth the first, but most of his more popular plays were written after her death, so in reality he was a Jacobean writer.
By the end of the medieval period Old English, once known as Anglo Saxon and was spoken in areas of Southern Scotland and England between 5th and the 12th century was seen as the bases for the modern English language we speak today. We now address the so-called Elizabethan or Shakespearean era as Early Modern English even though to our ears it would be hard to understand the spoken and written words.
What Mr Shakespeare did was change a verb into adjective or nouns into verbs by adding prefixes and suffixes to coin a whole new word, and connect words that were never used in combination earlier. It would have been interesting to know whether his audience were confused by him doing this, or whether his actors questioned his usage of these new words.
Here are some of the words invented by Shakespeare:
Accommodation : amazement : assassination : barefaced:
Baseless : to bedazzle : belongings: to besmirch : cold-blooded :
Coldhearted : countless: courtship : dawn (as a noun) : day’s work
deaths-head : to dishearten: to dislocate: distasteful (Shakespeare meant ‘showing disgust’): distrustful: eyewink: fair-faced: fairyland: fanged : footfall: foppish
foregone: fortune-teller: foul mouthed : hint (as a noun): hobnail (as a noun)
homely (sense ‘ugly’): honey-tongued: hornbook (an ‘alphabet tablet’)
hostile: hot-blooded: lacklustre: ladybird: lament: land-rat: to lapse: laughable:
loggerhead (Shakespeare meant ‘blockhead’) : lonely (Shakespeare meant ‘lone’)
long-legged: love letter: lustihood : monumental: moonbeam: mortifying (as an adjective): motionless: mountaineer (Shakespeare meant as ‘mountain-dweller’): to muddy:
pale-faced: to pander : please-man (a ‘yes-man’) : plumpy (‘plump’) : published: (Shakespeare meant ‘commonly recognized’) :to puke : on purpose: quarrelsome: in question:
vulnerable: watchdog: water drop: water fly: well-behaved: well-bred: well-educated: well-read.
Yes, very surprising to see how many are recognisable to us and we have used them daily. Now for some notable phrases from some of Shakespeare’s plays that you may have used yourself at some point.
“All that glitters is not gold” Macbeth
“Break the Ice” The Taming of the Shrew
“A Brave New World” The Tempest
“In my hearts ” Hamlet
“Jealousy is a green-eyed monster” Othello
“The world is my oyster” The Merry Wives of Windsor
“Bated breath” The Merchant of Venice
“A dish fit for the Gods ” Julius Caesar
“He hath eaten me out of the house and home” Henry IV Part 2
“Laid on with a trowel” As You Like It