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Words Invented by Shakespeare

In honor of Shakespeare's 450th birthday, we'll look at Shakespeare's words, phrases, insults, and false friends. I bet you don't know them all.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #413

False Friends

Shakespeare’s plays also have quite a few words that are known as false friends: words that mean something different today than they did in Shakespeare’s time, and these words can make reading Shakespeare confusing.

For example, today, awful means bad, but in Shakespeare’s time it meant “awe-inspiring or worthy of respect.” Awful men in Shakespeare’s plays were something completely different from awful men today.

The Bard used the word batty to mean "bat-like." It had nothing to do with the way we use the word to mean “crazy or nutty” today.

When Shakespeare called something a catastrophe, he simply meant it was the end or the conclusion. Catastrophe comes from a Greek root meaning “to turn or overturn.” Thinking of a catastrophe as a disaster is a more modern idea.

Someone who was dieting in Shakespeare’s time was eating heartily, not daintily, and fabulous meant “mythical, fabulous or invented,” not amazing or terrific. Fabulous comes from the Latin word for “fable”: fābulōsus.

The list goes on and on. One article from David Crystal lists and explains 162 different false friends in Shakespeare. Go look at it because it’s fascinating.

Famous Shakespearean Phrases

No discussion of Shakespeare would be complete without a nod to the many famous phrases we now utter without even knowing they’re from his plays. You probably know that to be or not to be is from Shakespeare, but he also gave us

  • Dead as a doornail

  • Love is blind

  • All’s well that ends well

  • Flesh and blood

  • In a pickle

  • A sorry sight

  • Lie low

  • Cruel to be kind

The list goes on and on.

Shakespearean Insults

Finally, for a little fun, I’ll end with Shakespearean insults. Shakespeare was an expert taunter. Here are some of my favorites:

From As You Like It: "I desire that we be better strangers."

From Timon of Athens: "I'll beat thee, but I should infect my hands."

From Much Ado About Nothing: Four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one.

The list of insults also goes on and on, and for more of those, I refer you to the Twitter account @WilliamHatesYou.

I’d like to thank Peter Sokolowski from Merriam-Webster for early guidance on this topic, and I’d also like to to thank the well-known and prolific linguist, David Crystal. His extensive writings about Shakespeare’s language were my sources for the majority of information in this podcast, and he has vastly more wonderful information on his website that I couldn’t even touch on here. You can find many of his articles and books at DavidCrystal.com.

Sources

cold-blooded. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/36105?redirectedFrom=cold-blooded#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

Crystal, David. “Un- Finished.” Around the Globe. 17. 2001. p. 22-3. http://www.davidcrystal.com/?fileid=-4228 (accessed April 18, 2014)

Crystal, David. “Saying What Can’t Be Said.” Around the Globe. 16, 2001, p. 20-21. http://davidcrystal.com/?fileid=-4227 (accessed April 18, 2014)

Crystal, David. http://www.thinkonmywords.com/additional/p234.html?height=450&width=820. (accessed April 20, 2014).

dauntless. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/47467?redirectedFrom=dauntless#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

Elentari. “Shakespeare’s Genius for Creating Words.” BBC website. November 29, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A76533195 (accessed April, 24, 2014)

green-eyed. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/81188?redirectedFrom=green-eyed#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

hot-blooded. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/88788?redirectedFrom=hot-blooded#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

Linderman, Matt. “Shakespeare’s Word Inventions.” Signal v. Noise. September 7, 2010. https://signalvnoise.com/posts/2527-shakespeares-word-inventions (accessed April 24, 2014)

swagger. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/195354?redirectedFrom=swagger#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

swag. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/195337#eid19494004 (accessed April 24, 2014)

unhelpful. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/214154?redirectedFrom=unhelpful#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

unlock. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/215203?redirectedFrom=unlock#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

unreal. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/216842?redirectedFrom=unreal#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

unsolicited. Oxford English Dictionary, Online. Oxford University Press.

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/218140?redirectedFrom=unsolicited#eid (accessed April 24, 2014)

 

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