We already know that Shakespeare is a great writer. He’s one of the most renowned playwrights in the entire history of the world, and it’s not hard to see why. Shakespeare’s works, although written and often set in the Victorian era, tell stories that everyone can understand, relate to, and empathize with regardless of their location in the world. Moreover, Shakespeare had such a way with language that simply left us wanting to hear more.
What not a lot of people know is that most of the literary styles, catchphrases, and words didn’t even exist until Shakespeare invented them. So Shakespeare did not contribute to just English literature—he contributed to the English language as well! Here are only some words that were coined by Shakespeare himself.
Articulate – Coriolanus, Henry IV Part 1
Meaning: (v.) express (an idea or feeling) fluently and coherently It seems quite fitting that the man who cannot always find the right word made a word to express such an emotion. Originally, the word was used to mean “to express in the form of articles.”
Cold-blooded – King John
Meaning: (adj.) without emotion or pity; deliberately cruel or callous. Synonyms: cruel, ruthless
Shakespeare was not one to skimp on metaphors, and cold-blooded was one that really stuck. The term was initially used to mean “lacking in emotion,” but it has evolved to accommodate several other meanings. Another similar metaphor coined by Shakespeare is “cold-hearted.”
However, this expression was already pretty common. This compound word may also be taken literally to describe animals that are unable to regulate their own body temperatures, such as reptiles.
Eyesore – The Taming of the Shrew
Meaning: (n.) an unpleasant or ugly sight in a public place
This word is another clever compound word that is said to be coined by Shakespeare. First appearing in The Taming of the Shrew, the word retains its original meaning to this day. In general, it can also mean something that makes something less visually appealing.
Friend (as a verb) – Cymbeline, Henry VIII, Hamlet
Meaning: (v.) befriend (someone)
The noun form of the word may have been already popular for quite a long time, but Shakespeare was the first one to use it as a verb. The original intended meaning of the word may now be considered archaic, but the word has resurfaced as a result of the popularity of social media.
Gnarled – Measure for Measure
Meaning: (adj.) knobbly, rough, and twisted, especially with age
While it’s a word that’s rarely in use today, this adjective is popular when describing something that has become crooked because of age, such as a tree. The word comes from “knurled,” which also means “bumpy.”
Launder (as a verb) – A Lover’s Complaint
Meaning: (v.) wash, or wash and iron (clothes or linens)
A woman who washes clothes is already known as a “laundress.” However, Shakespeare is credited for the backformation launder, a verb that means to wash clothes. It comes from the contraction of the French word for “washer” which is lavandier.
Quarrelsome – As You Like It, Taming of the Shrew
Meaning: (adj.) given to or characterized by quarreling
Yet another compound adjective, this word appears in both As You Like It and Taming of the Shrew. The adjective refers to someone who tends to pick fights often.
Rival (as an adjective and a verb) – King Lear, Midsummer Night’s Dream
Meaning: (v.) compete for superiority with; be or seem to be equal or comparable to
Meaning: (adj.) having the same pretensions or claims Synonym: competing
The noun form of rival was already well into the English lexicon, but its use as an adjective or a verb was pioneered by Shakespeare in two of his works.
Watchdog – The Tempest
Meaning: (n.) a person or organization that monitors and publicizes the behavior of others (individuals, corporations, governments) to discover undesirable activity
This compound noun was popularized in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Often referring to a person, or a group of persons, watchdog is also a popular term in journalism.
Zany – Love’s Labour Lost
Meaning: (adj.) amusingly unconventional and idiosyncratic
This may sound like a fairly new word, but this was actually first used as part of English by Shakespeare. The word was loaned from an Italian commedia dell’arte.
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