William Shakespeare, like many of his fellow Renaissance writers, plumbed the classical languages of Greek and Latin to borrow, change, and invent new words. As English was moving from its Middle English legacies of German, French, and Norse languages, Early Modern English was in flux, with grammar and spelling not yet formalized. This gave writers the freedom to play with existing English compound words; turn nouns into verbs, verbs into adverbs, and creatively apply prefixes. Many of these new words carried into Late Modern English – our era of contemporary language.
Though Shakespeare’s writings contain the first written instances of many new words, some may have existed in an oral tradition before he penned them. For example, researchers have found that words like puke, though originally attributed to the Bard, have been found to have earlier sources. Be that as it may, as notated in the Oxford English Dictionary, many words are held up today as Shakespeare’s own.
Here are 50 examples of words we can thank Shakespeare for:
You may also be interested to learn about idioms and phrases coined by other famous writers, words that are eponymously known for legendary personalities, or how words change by “rebracketing” when they are repeatedly misheard!
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