Shakespeare's Coined Words Now Common Currency

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Further compounding the confusion, some experts argue that a prime source that attributes many such words and phrases to Shakespeare—the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—perhaps is itself biased toward the Bard.

Jonathan Hope of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, writes in his essay, "Shakespeare's 'Native English,'" that "the Victorian scholars who read texts for the first edition of the OED paid special attention to Shakespeare: [H]is texts were read more thoroughly, and cited more often, so he is often credited with the first use of words, or senses of words, which can, in fact, be found in other writers."

Be that as it may, Shakespeare certainly popularized the use of certain words through his plays and poems in a way that has been unparalleled. Perhaps the true brilliance of Shakespeare's wordplay lies in his alternate uses of existing words, such as using a noun as verb. Hope points, for example, to Shakespeare's transformation of "lace," a noun borrowed from French, into the verb "lac'd" (laced).

The Bard also invented "new" words through the creative use of prefixes or suffixes (as in "reword"), and by joining two familiar words to create an unfamiliar phrase, like "fier [fire] new," notes Hope.

"Shakespeare probably doesn't borrow words any more or less frequently than his contemporaries," Hope writes, "but he does seem to be fascinated by … the way meanings can be refreshed and recombined by placing a familiar word in an unfamiliar role."

According to Macrone in Brush Up Your Shakespeare, the Oxford English Dictionary credits Shakespeare as the first to use these words, among others: "arch-villain," "bedazzle," "cheap" (as in vulgar or flimsy), "dauntless," "embrace" (as a noun), "fashionable," "go-between," "honey-tongued," "inauspicious," "lustrous," "nimble-footed," "outbreak," "pander," "sanctimonious," "time-honored," "unearthly," "vulnerable," and "well-bred."

"Faux Shakespeare"

Of course, with such a wide linguistic influence attributed to Shakespeare, it is not all that surprising that the playwright has some notable phrases incorrectly assigned to him as well.

"Just because the Bard was a regular phrase-coining machine doesn't mean he should hog the credit when the facts are against him," writes Macrone in Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

To help prevent embarrassment, Macrone kindly provides a list of "faux Shakespeare" for his readers, including the following familiar sayings:

• All that glisters (glistens) is not gold
• To knit one's brow
• Cold comfort
• (To) give the devil his due
• To play fast and loose
• Till the last gasp
• Laughing stock
• Fool's paradise
• In a pickle
• Out of the question
• The long and the short of it
• It's Greek to me
• It's high time
• The naked truth

While Shakespeare probably made these phrases better known, writes Macrone, they all have earlier documented references.

Regardless of such technicalities, Shakespeare's influence on everyday speech survived the subsequent shifts in language that resulted in the English spoken today. So, to use a familiar Shakespeare phrase, it seems that all's well that ends well.

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