Words by Shakespeare

Went last night to see the acclaimed Bridge production of Julius Caesar.  Terrific stuff.   Going tonight to see the panned production of Macbeth at the National Theatre.  We'll see.  They are both full of quotations - and words never heard before.  William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is credited with originating: 1,700 words.

In truth, many of Shakespeare’s ‘new’ words were created by using existing nouns as verbs, verbs as adjectives, re-framing their original meanings, adding pre-fixes, suffixes or simply taking the Latin derivatives and playing around with them to come up with something a little bit different.  If you count all the variants of the same word – for example, ‘love’, ‘loves’, ‘loving’, ‘loved’, ‘lovest’ – Shakespeare in all his works has a vocabulary of just over 29,000 words.  If you discount the grammatical variations, his basic vocab was between 17,000 and 20,000 words.  Given you can find 500,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary today, 20,000 isn't many.  Clearly, it's not the number of words you know, but the way in which you use them.

Of course, Shakespeare gets the credit for words he did not necessarily invent.  He may have invented them – or simply have been the guy who first put them down on paper.  Here are some of the words first found in Shakespeare and the plays in which we first encounter them:

advertising - Measure of Measure

amazement – The Tempest

assassination - Macbeth

bandit - Henry VI, part 2

bedroom  - A Midsummer Night’s Dream

birthplace - Coriolanus

bloodstained - Titus Andronicus

barefaced - Hamlet

blushing - Henry VI

bump - Romeo and Juliet

champion - Macbeth

circumstantial - As You Like it

cold-blooded - King John

compromise - Merchant of Venice

courtship - Love’s Labour’s Lost

critic  - Love’s Labour’s Lost

dawn  - Henry IV

discontent - Titus Andronicus

dishearten - Henry V

drugged - Macbeth

epileptic - King Lear

elbow - King Lear

excitement - Hamlet,

eyeball – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

fashionable - Troilus and Cressida

frugal The Merry Wives of Windsor

generous - Love’s Labour’s Lost

gossip The Comedy of Errors

gnarled - Measure for Measure

grovel - Henry VI, Part 2

hurried - Comedy of Errors

label - Twelfth Night 

laughable-  Merchant of Venice

majestic - Julius Cesar

marketable - As you Like it

mimic A Midsummer Night’s Dream

monumental - Troilus and Cressida

moonbeam A Midsummer Night’s dream

mountaineer  - Cymbeline

negotiate - Much Ado about nothing

obsequiously - Richard III

outbreak - Hamlet

pedant The Taming of the Shrew

puking - As You Like It

radiance - All’s Well That Ends  Well

rant - Hamlet

remorseless - Henry VI

savagery - King John

scuffle - Anthony and Cleopatra

submerge - Anthony and Cleopatra

summit - Hamlet

swagger – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

torture - Henry VI, Part 2

tranquil - Othello

undress - Taming the Shrew

unreal - Macbeth

varied - Titus Andronicus

worthless - Henry VI, Part 1

zany – Twelfth Night

Yes, before Hamlet, ours was a language without excitement. 

Gyles Brandreth