Sunday, January 27, 2008

Shakespeare's Influence

Shakespeare also invented many of the most-used expressions in our language. Bernard Levin skillfully summarizes Shakespeare's impact in the following passage from The Story of English:

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare;

if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare;

even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness' sake! what the dickens! but me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

(Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).

The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. At the below SOURCE is a chart listing some of the words Shakespeare coined, hyperlinked to the play and scene from which it comes. When the word appears in multiple plays, the link will take you to the play in which it first appears.


If you are looking for more words invented by Shakespeare be sure to read the wonderful book Coined By Shakespeare by Jeffrey McQuain and Stanley Mallessone. Each entry in the book comes with a history of the word.


Sherrie W. said...

I must vote for my favorite Shakespearean invention.... "right on!" from Julius Caesar.

Anonymous said...

This information was very helpful. And it's good to know.

Anonymous said...

Me 2 i totally agree. so wat up with old engl. Me 2 im must vote my fav. Shakespearean invention..."right on" from Julius Caesar. I totally agree. yeah. right on. LOL. TTYL

Anonymous said...

yo yo yo, i was jus wondrin wat every body thinks bout shakepeare is he good? cuz i don't read him that much.

Dawood Mamedoff said...

He had and will have the greatest influence on everyone who ever read him.

..check notable tributes and quotes on William Shakespeare from famous peers:

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