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10 Common Words Invented by Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare, the world-famous playwright, invented as many as 1700 words. The words invented by him are so extensive that Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke wrote a book called ‘The Shakespeare Key’, in which they noted down all the words that the famous playwright invented. 

He is credited with inventing several words pertaining to different fields, some of which have become a part of our daily vocabulary. Some of these words are:

  1. Arch-Villain (Timon of Athens, Act V, Scene I)
    This word is commonly used in movies and novels and means ‘the supreme or most powerful evil’. It is a classic example of inventing a new word by adding a prefix (arch).
  2. Disturbed (Venus and Adonis, 1593)
    Without this word, it would have been extremely difficult for patients to explain to their doctors about their sleep cycle or their mental health-related symptoms.
  3. Eventful (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII)
    How would you describe your day to your best friend, if this word did not exist?
  4. Eyeball (The Tempest, Act I, Scene II)
    Earlier, the word ‘eyeball’ did exist, but it meant only the visible part of the eye. Shakespeare used this word to refer to the whole ball of the eye, which is how the word is used currently.
  5. Fashionable (Troilus and Cressida, Act III, Scene III)
    What would the fashion industry have done without this word? How would you have judged the fashion sense of others if this word was non-existent?
  6. Inaudible (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act V, Scene III)
    Just by adding a negative ‘in’- prefix to an already existing word, Shakespeare invented so many new words such as indistinguishable, inauspicious, etc.
  7. Pageantry (Prince of Tyre, Act V, Scene II)
    Again, a commonly used word in the fashion industry and for beauty competitions, this word means an elaborate display or ceremony.
  8. Scuffle (Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene I)
    The word ‘cuffle’ was earlier used as a verb, which Shakespeare used as a noun. This is a classic example of him using an existing verb and using it as a noun too. Writers have now got a synonym that they can now use instead for the word ‘fight’.
  9. Swagger (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene I)
    A term that today’s youth use to define high levels of confidence along with subtle levels of arrogance and extreme pride, was invented by Shakespeare. This word became widely used by all of Gen Z.
  10. Uncomfortable (Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene V)
    This is another word coined by Shakespeare by adding the prefix ‘un’. The word uncomfortable is widely used. It is hard to imagine that this word didn’t exist before Shakespeare invented it.

Like Shakespeare, there have been many authors who have invented words such as — Lewis Carol created ‘mimsy’, ‘brillig’, etc. But these words never caught on. Such words are known as nonce words (words coined for single use only and are essentially meaningless). Other nonce words invented by famous authors such as James Joyce are poppysmic (the sound of someone smacking their lips) and mrkgnao (a version of meow). Moreover, not all the words created by Shakespeare caught on. Words such as ‘eftes’, ‘pioned’, ‘pajock’, etc., largely remained unutilised by the common masses.

The words invented by Shakespeare caught on because he created terms that were intuitively comprehensible and were often built on the foundation of already existing words. They were not a mere combination of unintelligible sounds and random letters. He coined these words by either conjoining two words, adding prefixes or suffixes, changing verbs into adjectives, or changing nouns into verbs.

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