Hats off to William Shakespeare

Now, everybody’s heard of the great bard, William Shakespeare, but perhaps not everybody knows that he was much more than just a prodigious playwright. The English language has Shakespeare to thank for a great deal more than Macbeth, Hamlet, et al.: he also invented a great number of words and phrases.

According to painstaking calculations, Shakespeare used 17,667 different words throughout all his works, and at least 1 in 10 of these words had never been used before. That’s somewhere in the region of 2,000 words that Shakespere coined himself. Among them are common terms such as lonely, excellent, submerged, countless, dwindle, hurry and hint – words without which it would be quite difficult to imagine present-day English. While it’s true that he lived in an era when the English language was going through something of a growth spurt, with new terms and ideas being invented constantly; it’s still an amazing achievement to have made such a major contribution to the language’s evolution.

He also coined many phrases throughout his plays, for example “in a pickle”, “all that glitters is not gold”, “foregone conclusion”, “one fell swoop”, “heart’s content”, “up in arms”, “vanish into thin air”, “pound of flesh” and “in the twinkling of an eye”. Perhaps it’s more a testament to his skill not so much that he invented such phrases, but that these phrases have survived to modern times.

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