September 20, 2010
A Feast of Language

Volumes have been written about Shakespeare's vocabulary. Estimates range from the fairly specific 17,677 to 21,000 different words appearing in his plays and sonnets. By comparison, most authors top out at around 7,500. The average college graduate employs a vocabulary of three to four thousand words.

The Oxford English Dictionary logs 1,035 instances where Shakespeare is recorded as the first to use a word, and 357 cases where Shakespeare is the only recorded user of a word. A fair quantity of these were existing words to which Shakespeare imparted a new sense, like script as a noun, and fit as a verb. But many more were never encountered until he pulled them from the ether and committed them to parchment. Sure, a few are terms that haven't aged quite so well, like fustilarian, imperceiverant, and wappened. But a surprising number of Shakespearean coinages survive to this day as uncommonly common words: bedroom, fairyland, leapfrog, subcontract, lackluster, accommodation, zany, puke, and so forth. The phrase ''so forth'' is also one of Shakespeare's creations.

More impressive than the Bard's flair for vocabulary-building was his knack for combining standard words to form memorably evocative phrases, many of which thrive in our contemporary vernacular. You may be surprised to discover how frequently you quote Shakespeare on a day-to-day basis. Take a look at this sampling of expressions attributed to Will.

bated breath --The Merchant of Venice
be-all and end-all --Macbeth
break the ice --The Taming of the Shrew
catch a cold --Henry IV
clothes make the man --Hamlet
cold comfort --The Taming of the Shrew
dead as a doornail --Henry VI
dog will have his day --Hamlet
eaten out of house and home --Henry VI
elbow room --King John
faint hearted --Henry VI
fair play --King John
fancy-free --Midsummer Night's Dream
flaming youth --Hamlet
for goodness' sake --Henry VIII
foregone conclusion --Othello
forever and a day --As You Like It
heart of gold --Henry V
high time --The Comedy of Errors
hot-blooded --King Lear
in a pickle --The Tempest
it smells to heaven --Hamlet
it's Greek to me --Julius Caesar
laughing stock --The Merry Wives of Windsor
live long day --Julius Caesar
mind's eye --Hamlet
naked truth --Love's Labour Lost
neither rhyme nor reason --As You Like It
one fell swoop --Macbeth
own flesh and blood --Hamlet
play fast and loose --King John
sea change --The Tempest
set my teeth on edge --Henry IV
short shrift --Richard III
a sorry sight --Macbeth
spotless reputation --Richard III
strange bedfellows --The Tempest
too much of a good thing --As You Like It
tower of strength --Richard III
wear my heart upon my sleeve --Othello
wild goose chase --Romeo and Juliet

You can cop an academic leaning with no more effort than sprinkling your conversation with these household words that happen to be innovations of the greatest literary figure of all time.

By the way, ''household words'' is a phrase introduced by Shakespeare in Henry V. ( : { >





Iambic pentameter in 140 characters.

Comment by Masterpuppet Theatre on September 23, 2010 @ 10:32 am
Imagine if Shakespeare had twitter!

Comment by Roni Lagin on September 23, 2010 @ 12:17 am



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