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    Shakespeare Week 2016: Words and phrases invented by Shakespeare

    Shakespeare week is in full swing and we’re looking at another of the many reasons the world famous writer and creative genius deserves to be celebrated.

    William Shakespeare is thought to have introduced more words and phrases to the English language than any other individual. The majority of his language contributions are still commonly used today.

    It is not always easy to determine the exact origin of words, but The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) confirms that many words were written down for the first time in Shakespeare’s works.

    Words invented by Shakespeare


    “Yet gives he not till judgment guide his bounty.
    Nor dignifies an impair thought with breath.
    (Merry wives of Windsor. Troilus and Cressida)

    Shakespeare framed ‘impair’ as an adjective to express a seemingly compounded meaning from various sources, including the Latin impar to mean ‘unequal‘ or ‘unworthy’; along with the Latin imparatus, to mean ‘unprepared’ or ‘perplexed’, and also the English word ‘impairing‘ to mean ‘injurious‘. Many writers had used the word ‘impair’ before, but it was Shakespeare who made it function as an expressive adjective.


    “These things, indeed, you have articulated,
    Proclaim’d at market-crosses, read in churches.”
    (Henry IV)

    Shakespeare is thought to have coined the verb ‘articulate’ from the Latin word ‘articulus’ meaning ‘an article or condition in a covenant’ to express ‘declaration in articles.’


    “When vice makes mercy, mercy’s so extended,
    That for the fault’s love is th’ offender friended.”
    (Measure for Measure)

    “Not friended by his wish, to your high person
    His will is most malignant.”
    – (
    Henry VIII)

    Shakespeare uses ‘friended’ to express what is generally implied by the word ‘befriended’ in modern English. He also created the word ‘friending’ to convey a ‘friendly feeling’, as seen in Hamlet:

    “And what so poor a man as Hamlet is
    May do, to express his love and friending to you.”

    Other words for which Shakespeare is credited include:

    • Auspicious – favouring or promising success – A wedding is an example of an auspicious occasion.
    • Baseless – without a factual foundation – An accusation should be backed up by a supporting fact.
    • Barefaced without shame or disguise – A ‘barefaced lie’ is obviously not true.
    • Dwindle to reduce in size – Money is something that dwindles away as it gets spent
    • Watchdog – a group that aims to discover wrong or illegal activity.

    Many popular phrases or idioms used in modern English conversation originate back to Shakespeare’s writing, including:

    • Too much of a good thing (As You Like It) – Something positive can become negative if you have or do too much of it – for example food, love, money.
    • In a Pickle (The Tempest) – To be in a tricky situation.
    • Break the Ice (The Taming of the Shrew) –  When people meet for the first time,  they “break the ice” by asking one another questions about themselves.
    • Fair Play (The Tempest) – Fair and just.
    • All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice) – Attractive things don’t always hold value.

    For more examples of expressions that were either coined or popularized by Shakespeare, visit bbcamerica.com.