How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent

William Shakespeare has been part of our lives since our high school days. Although interesting, his works were not always enjoyable for all of us at that age.

As a teenager, you almost had to translate what you were reading.

But at the time he was writing, it was very different and the English language has changed a lot since then.

But you have to admit that he was very good at inventing great new words and turning nouns into verbs.

How many words did Shakespeare invent?

Some estimates say that there are more than 2,200 English words in Shakespeare’s writing that were not in use in English until his time.

But the 16th and the early 17th century was a time of great change in the English language. Many of these new words can be attributed to other writers of the time.

Shakespeare’s writing was, of course, brilliant because he is one of the most famous writers to have ever lived.

We can trace a lot of the words that Shakespeare invented. We know this because many words never appeared before his writing.

Who knows how he came up with these words, but it is a great topic to investigate.

If you are looking for the exact number of words he invented, check the summary of this article for the precise answer.

Before that, here’s a quick list of some of his most famous words.

 

Addiction

We use this word so often now. It has been around for so long that we use it without giving it a second thought.

In Othello, this word seems to be used with confidence.

… each man to what sport and revels his addiction leads him.

In a way, the meaning hasn’t changed a lot, but we probably use it more in a negative sense today.

 

Assassination

Shakespeare was not a man who kept his language simple. Indeed, a lot of the words he invented are dramatic and powerful.

He used assassination in Macbeth, and the word in itself is compelling.

Today, we use this word without giving it much thought, but it is one of his best-invented words.

 

Belongings

In Shakespeare’s time, people did have belongings, but there must have been another word in use.

The word “belongings” in itself was another great sign of this genius.

I am not sure what we would call the things we have if this word were not on his list.

At some point, I would like to see if anyone else can come up with anything as brilliant as this.

His book, Measure for Measure, was one of the best pieces of literature ever written.

 

Cold-blooded

Cold-blooded is a word invented by Shakespeare, and it obviously creates a dramatic effect.

In The Life and Death of King John, Shakespeare refers to it in this passage.

Thou cold-blooded slave,
Hast thou not spoke like thunder on my side?
Been sworn my soldier? bidding me depend
Upon thy stars, thy fortune, and thy strength?

Shakespeare’s definition of cold-blooded meant without emotion, excitement, or unimpassioned.

Today we tend to associate it more with an expression such as a cold-blooded killer.

 

Eventful

It is an interesting word, even for Shakespeare. But obviously, he loved to express himself with new words or by reforming existing words with a suffix or prefix.

In “As You Like It”, Shakespeare uses this word to refer to history, which might not be the way we would use it today.

We use this word to describe an occasion that was full of energy.

Shakespeare used it as a way to describe a time where life was not always as simple as it is today.

 

Fashionable

Yes, you read correctly. Shakespeare is the one we need to thank for this widely used word.

He probably didn’t have Milan fashion in mind when he used this word for the first time.

In fact, he was referring to the host of a part in Troilus and Cressida.

We use this word in our everyday lives and on social media.

In time, this word has been adapted from the original meaning.

We use this word to describe someone who dresses well, or what’s hot and what’s not.

 

Ladybird

No, Shakespeare didn’t invent a beetle called a ladybird.

But his use of the word makes us feel all fuzzy inside. In Romeo and Juliet, he endearingly used this word.

It was the way the nurse spoke about Juliet, which is a beautiful word to describe someone else.

We tend to associate the word with a red and black beetle today. But perhaps the emotive meaning will come back into fashion.

 

Manager

We are all grateful that Shakespeare decided to come up with this word because we all need to complain about someone in the office.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare uses this word effortlessly in a manner that we may not be comfortable with today.

Where is our usual manager of mirth?

It might not work in the office today.

 

Swagger

If you ever believed that Shakespeare was not the coolest guy around, you might want to reconsider.

Who could come up with a word like swagger and not be cool?

To be fair, he was not referring to any pop star who can wear a hoodie and low riding jeans.

Shakespeare was way too classy for that, but never the less, he does deserve credit for this one.

 

Uncomfortable

This word might be just the right way to describe the way Shakespeare’s writing made me feel in high school.

In one of his most renowned pieces, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses the word ‘uncomfortable’ in a way that communicates the meaning beautifully.

Uncomfortable time, why camest thou now to murder, murder our solemnity?

There is no rush in his writing, but the impact of what needs to be said is there.

Even in his theatrical tone, we can understand that the time of which he speaks was uncomfortable.

 

Other notable words

I can’t include every word in this list, but here are a handful worthy of noting.

Birthplace, disgraceful, fairyland, to grovel, laughable, moonbeam, puppy-dog, shooting star, unmitigated, weird and zany.

 

Conclusion

It is easy to understand why Shakespeare’s work is still loved by so many people today.

We don’t always relate to the language, words, and phrases, but we all love a little romance and theatre.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but even if you don’t like reading Shakespeare, you know who he is.

As a wise man once said, “respect is earned,” and Shakespeare has earned it one thousand times over.

Without Shakespeare, we would probably never have added such a vast number of words to our English vocabulary.

So how many words did William Shakespeare invent?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has a list of 433 words.

Such a pity he didn’t quite make it to 500.

 

More reading: 350 Other Words For Said For Your Dialogue Writing

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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