I was reading about (yet another) pop culture phenomenon who was described as the “be-all and end-all.” I mercifully forget who the article was about, but remembered that there would be no “be-all and end-all” without Shakespeare. He not only came up with unique phrases and word combinations, he created new words. On the high end, there are estimates that claim he created as many as 20,000 new words, others state that the Bard coined between 1,000 to 2,000 words. There is a wide gap there, but regardless, the fact remains that much of what we say, how we say it and what we think are due to the words he introduced.
You have to give the devil its due. Yep, that’s Shakespeare too.
Language shifts and changes organically. Latin, French, and Old Norse brought words which were incorporated into English. But Shakespeare was a force unto himself. He changed nouns into verbs, turned verbs into adjectives, connected words in new ways, added prefixes and suffixes, and created entirely new words.
He wanted to say what he wanted to say how he wanted to say it and if the words weren’t there, he created them.
Addiction, assassination, eyeball, Inaudible, swagger, uncomfortable, bedazzled, are just a fraction of the words attributed to him. And the remarkable part isn’t simply that he created new words and phrases (people continually try that) but that so many took hold and are now a part of our lexicon.
It wasn’t simply the creation of new words, but also the unique combination of words to express an idea or concept, that made the impact of his works so timeless. People who have never seen, read, or heard a work by Shakespeare have been touched by his writings. In many ways, he has altered and transformed our language. We all now carry the words he created and the phrases he coined.
All that glitters ("glisters") is not gold.
Be-all and the end-all.
Brave new world.
Break the ice.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
In my heart of hearts.
Those are but a few examples of Shakespeare at work.
Language is fluid and change is an inevitable and continual process. Not that long ago the phrase “to Google,” or tweet” would seem completely nonsensical. Shakespeare is not alone in creating new English words and phrases, but as to the impact one person has made, he certainly is unrivaled.
He changed how we think and how we communicate, but that was a byproduct of his search to find the language he needed to tell his tales.
For Shakespeare necessity truly was the mother of invention.
So, how does this relate to you?
Glad you asked.
As writers, when we hit stumbling blocks and need to figure out new ways to reach goals. And there Shakespeare is not a bad role model. Whether it has to do with the act of writing, the business of writing or the marketing of your work, sometimes it’s worth following Will’s footsteps and thinking outside of the preverbal box. (No, that’s not his).
I’m not advocating you start work on a new language, but, depending on the problem at hand, it could mean creating new a new approach, system, perspective, or yes, maybe even a new word. Who knows what you’ll come up with by using his unique creative approach to problem solving?
And if you have missteps along the way, that’s fine. That’s part of the process. Not all of his words are with us today; mistempered , attasked and oppugnancy are apparently some Shakespearean creations that did not take hold.
Not even he batted a thousand.
I wonder who came up with that phrase?