Shakespeare’s play on words

Auspicious. Accommodation. Arch-villain. Apart from beginning with the letter ‘A’, what do all of these words have in common? The answer is they were all ‘invented’ by Shakespeare.

He also put words together to make up phrases that were new to the English language, many of which are still used today. They include: “break the ice” (The Taming of the Shrew), “be-all and the end-all” (Macbeth), “green eyed monster” (Othello), “not slept one wink” (Cymbeline) and “neither rhyme nor reason” (As You Like It).

The name given to a relatively new word or phrase that has entered common usage is ‘neologism’. Most neologisms are attributable to a specific person or publication. In Shakespeare’s case, as well as writing some 37 plays, 154 sonnets and five narrative poems, he is credited with coining a staggering 1,700 of the words we use in our daily lives and everyday speech.

He did this by changing nouns into verbs and verbs into adjectives, ‘borrowing’ words from foreign languages, connecting different words, and adding prefixes and suffixes. Sometimes, if he was struggling to find a suitable word or phrase, he would simply invent one!

Other words attributed to Shakespeare include:

“For time is like a fashionable host that slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand”

– Ulysses, Troilus and Cressida

“Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”

– Jaques, As You Like It

“Though cold-blooded slave, hast though not spoke like thunder on my side, been sworn my soldier”

– Constance, King John

“Go make thyself like a nymph o’ the sea: be subject to no sight but thine and mine, invisible to every eyeball else”

– Prospero, The Tempest

In this, the 400th anniversary year of his death, Shakespeare’s words still reverberate on stage, are quoted on TV and in film, and enjoyed by millions of people. Recognised, perhaps, as the greatest writer in the English language, schools are joining cultural, creative and other educational establishments around the country, and across the world, in celebrating his extraordinary life’s work and legacy.

In the preface to the First Folio, a posthumous collection of 36 of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies’, friend and fellow writer Ben Jonson said that Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time”. Truer words were never spoken.

Words. They are an intrinsic part of our everyday lives, and we have Shakespeare to thank for greatly extending and enriching our repertoire. Why not Tweet us your favourite line or speech from Shakespeare @EducationWandP

In the meantime, I’ll leave the last word to Shakespeare himself:

Lord Polonius: “What do you read, my lord?”

Hamlet: “Words, words, words.”

Lord Polonius: “What is the matter, my lord?”

Hamlet: “Between who?”

Lord Polonius: “I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

Leave a reply