English owes more than you know to William Shakespeare. Yes, that playwright from four hundred years ago now considered so unimportant by British educational authorities that not a single play by Shakespeare is included in ‘O’ or ‘A’ Level examinations. It would be difficult to understand the importance one single playwright has had on the English language as we know it. There are 357 instances where Shakespeare is the only recorded user of a word in one or other of its senses. There are more than a thousand instances where he is the first of several writers to use a word, though later examples occur some 25 years after Shakespeare; therefore it seems likely that he introduced or popularized the word. There are 642 instances where he is the first of several writers to use a word. More importantly, at least 800 of Shakespeare’s words are still used to this day. He brought meaning to existing stems by introducing prefixes such as Dis-, Un-, Im-, and In-, or by adding the suffix –less. Let us take a look at what English owes to the man from Stratford-upon-Avon.
abstemious: meaning abstaining from drink, also excessive sexual behaviour – The Tempest.
accomodation (first used in Othello).
accused used as a noun – the accused.
addiction (Henry V & Othello)
alligator, from the Spanish aligarto, first used in Romeo and Juliet
to arouse – the common word was ‘rouse’ (Hamlet)
assassination – the word ‘assassin was already in use, S. provided the suffix (Macbeth).
auspicious – from ‘auspice’; ‘inauspicious’ appears in Romeo and Juliet.
bandit – from the Italian ‘bandetto’
baseless, meaning ‘groundless’
bedazzled (The Taming of the Shrew).
bedroom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
belongings (Measure for Measure).
to besmirch (Henry V).
bloodstained (Henry IV Part I).
to cake, first known use as a verb in Timon of Athens.
to cater, meaning the buying of provisions (As You Like It).
to champion, first known use as a verb, in Macbeth).
cold-blooded, meaning ‘lacking emotion’ (King John).
cold-hearted (Antony and Cleopatra).
deafening (Henry IV Part II).
disgraceful, meaning not graceful, in Henry IV Part I.
dishearten (Henry V).
to dislocate, referring to anatomy (Henry VI, Part I).
distasteful (Timon of Athens).
domineering (Love’s Labours Lost).
downstairs first used as an adjective i.e. ‘the downstairs parlour’ (Henry IV Part I).
to drug, first known use as a verb, in Macbeth.
to educate (Love’s Labours Lost).
to elbow first used as a verb in King Lear.
to ensnare (Othello).
eventful, in As You Like It.
eyeball (The Tempest).
farmhouse in The Merry Wives of Windsor, first known use of the compound.
fashionable (Timon of Athens (and) Troilus and Cressida).
flawed, first use as an adjective, in King Lear.
flowery (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
foppish (King Lear).
fortune-teller (The Comedy of Errors).
gnarled meaning bumpy or uneven, in Measure for Measure, from ‘knurled’ (or) ‘gnurled’.
to gossip, first use as a verb, much used as a noun beforehand, in The Comedy of Errors.
hint, the first use with today’s meaning, in Othello.
to humour, first use as a verb, in Love’s Labours Lost.
impartial (Henry IV Part II).
inaudible (All’s Well that Ends Well).
lackluster (As You Like It), first recorded use , so S. certainly invented it.
laughable, in The Merchant of Venice.
leaky, in Antony and Cleopatra (and) The Tempest.
marketable, first used as an adjective in As You Like It).
mimic (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
moonbeam, first used as a compound in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
mortifying appears first in Merchant of Venice (and) Much Ado about Nothing).
motionless (Henry V).
multitudinous first appears in Macbeth.
new-fangled appears first in Love’s Labours Lost (and) As You Like It.
perplex with the meaning of ‘confuse’ or ‘puzzle’ (King John and Cymbeline).
to petition, first use as a verb, in Antony and Cleopatra (and) Coriolanus.
published (Henry VI Part II) with the meaning ‘made known’
reclusive (Much Ado about Nothing).
sanctimonious (Measure for Measure and The Tempest).
satisfying (Othello and Cymbeline).
savagery (King John and Henry V).
schoolboy first appears in Julius Caesar (and) Much Ado about Nothing.
to submerge (Antony and Cleopatra).
unchanging (The Merchant of Venice).
uncomfortable (Romeo and Juliet).
unearthly (The Winter’s Tale).
unmitigated (Much Ado about Nothing).
well behaved (The Merry Wives of Windsor) without a hyphen.
well bred, also without the hyphen, in Henry IV Part II.
well read (Henry IV Part I).
widowed (Coriolanus and Sonnet 97)
NOTE: Dean Swift is heavily indebted to Liz Evers and her splendid reference book To Be or Not To Be published by Michael O’Mara Books Limited.
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