William Shakespeare, it is often said, invented a lot of what we currently call the English language. Not just phrases: you’d expect such a ubiquitous and popular writer to have had more than a passing influence over the sayings and idioms of his language, but actual words. Something like 1700 of them, all told.
To put that into context, there are 17,677 words across all of Shakespeare’s output – sonnets, plays, the lot. So out of every ten words, one will either have been new to his audience, new to his actors, or will have been passingly familiar, but never written down before (in a form that survives to the present day).
Some of them are merely the adjectivisation of verbs, like drugged or laughable, and some are well-used words that have have prefixes or suffixes added in order to fit properly, like remorseless, bloody or invulnerable, but he also invented whole words, out of nothing. Words with no obvious precedent to the listener, unless you were schooled in Latin or Greek; words like lapse, obscene, bubble, amazement, suspicious, apostrophe, auspicious, castigate, critic, dwindle, gnarled, perusal, pious…
Which begs an interesting question. Even at a time of great linguistic upheaval, what on Earth did Shakespeare’s uneducated audience make of this influx of newly-minted language into their entertainment?
read the rest at Anglophenia