Shakespeare's Contribution to the English Language

I'm not sure we'll ever be able to rationalize or explain the prodigious talent of Shakespeare (or whoever he may have been).  But in case you may be thinking that reports of his genius and influence on culture/literature/language are exaggerated, I offer the following post as proof to the contrary.

By the way, if you find this post to be of interest, you may also wish to check out my compilation of Shakespeare Trivia.
  1. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays in approximately 21 years
  2. His vocabulary, as culled from his works, numbers upward of 17,000 words
    1. Average citizens of England in Shakespeare's day possessed a vocabulary of ~500 words
    2. Today's most celebrated poets/authors typically utilize a vocabulary of 7,500 words
  3. Of the 17,000 words included in his texts, 1,700 were first used by Shakespeare
    1. Some of the 1,700 words that Shakespeare invented that are still in common usage today: academe, accommodation, accused, addiction, advertising, aerial, amazement, apostrophe, arouse, assassination, auspicious, backing, bandit, barefaced, baseless, bedroom, beached, besmirch, bet, birthplace, blanket, bloodstained, bloody, blushing, bump, buzzer, caked, castigate, cater, champion, circumstantial, clangor, cold-blooded, compromise, control (noun), countless, courtship, countless, critic, critical, dauntless, dawn, deafening, dexterously, discontent, dishearten, dislocate, drugged, dwindle, epileptic, equivocal, elbow, excitement, exposure, eventful, eyeball, fashionable, fitful, fixture, flawed, frugal, generous, gloomy, gnarled, gossip, green-eyed, grovel, gust, hint, hobnob, hurried, impede, impartial, inauspicious, indistinguishable, invulnerable, jaded, label, lackluster, lapse, laughable, lonely, lower, luggage, lustrous, madcap, majestic, marketable, metamorphize, mimic, misplaced, monumental, moonbeam, mountaineer, multituinous, negotiate, noiseless, obscene, obsequiously, ode, olympian, outbreak, panders, pedant, perusal, pious, premeditated, puking, radiance, rant, reliance, remorseless, road, sanctimonious, savagery, scuffle, seamy, secure, skim milk, sportive, submerge, summit, suspicious, swagger, torture, tranquil, undress, unreal, varied, vaulting, worthless, zany
    2. Shakespeare is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with the introduction of nearly 3,000 words into the language.
    3. Words Shakespeare invented but that have not entered common usage: affined, attasked, cadent, to beetle, bubukles, co-marts, co-mates, congreeing, conspectuities, crants, credent, dispunge, enactures, fracted, germins, immoment, impair, incarnadine, incorpsed, indigest, intrenchant, irregulous, jointing, mered, mirable, mistempered, operant, oppugnancy, palmy, out-crafted, out-villained, out-tongued, plantage, primogenitive, primy, propugnation, relume, reprobance, rigol, rooky, roted, rubious, smilets, to stell, stelled, supplyment, unsisting, virgined (held securely)
  4. 8,598 of the words in Shakespeare's texts appear only once.  (Scholars refer to these as 'nonce words'.)
  5. Some of the most common techniques Shakespeare employed in creating new words:
    1. changing nouns into verbs
    2. changing verbs into adjectives
    3. connecting words never before used together
    4. adding prefixes and suffixes
    5. devising words wholly original.
  6. The most commonly occuring words in Shakespeare's writings include (in order): the, and, I, to, of, a, you, my, that, in, is, not, with, s', for, it, me, his, be, he
  7. Some of the most commonly occurring words in Shakespeare's texts that are not in common usage today: anon, art, dost/doth, ere, fain, fie, hark, hence, hie, hither/thither, hath, ho, mark, marry, pray/prithee, saucy, sirrah, thee/thou/thy, whence, wherefore
  8. Shakespeare uses double negatives in spots and phrases such as "most unkindest" with regularity
  9. He often used verbs that do not agree with their subjects
  10. He often altered the structure of sentences (subject/predicate)
  11. He also invented many phrases that are still in common usage today:
    1. All one to me
    2. all our yesterdays
    3. as good luck would have it
    4. as merry as the day is long
    5. as pure as driven snow
    6. bated breath
    7. bag and baggage
    8. be all and end all
    9. beast with two backs
    10. brave new world
    11. break the ice
    12. breathed his last
    13. catch a cold
    14. come what may
    15. crack of doom
    16. dash to pieces
    17. dead as a doornail
    18. devil incarnate
    19. disgraceful conduct
    20. dish fit for the gods
    21. eaten me out of house and home
    22. elbow room
    23. even at the turning of the tide
    24. faint-hearted
    25. fair play
    26. fancy-free
    27. fight fire with fire
    28. flaming youth
    29. for goodness' sake
    30. foregone conclusion
    31. forever and a day
    32. foul play
    33. full circle
    34. the game is afoot
    35. the game is up
    36. give the devil his due
    37. good men and true
    38. good riddance
    39. green eyed monster
    40. heart of gold
    41. heartsick
    42. heart's content
    43. her infinite variety
    44. high time
    45. hoisted with his own petard
    46. hot-blooded
    47. housekeeping
    48. in my mind's eye
    49. in stitches
    50. in the twinkling of an eye
    51. infinite space
    52. it smells to heaven
    53. itching palms
    54. kill with kindness
    55. killing frost
    56. knock, knock! who's there?
    57. laid on with a trowel
    58. lean and hungry look
    59. leapfrog
    60. lie low
    61. like the dickens
    62. live long day
    63. long-haired
    64. make short shrift
    65. make your hair stand on end
    66. melted into thin air
    67. milk of human kindness
    68. minds' eye
    69. ministering angel
    70. more fool you
    71. more honored in the breach than in the observance
    72. more in sorrow than in anger
    73. more sinned against than sinning
    74. much ado about nothing
    75. murder most foul
    76. my salad days
    77. neither rhyme nor reason
    78. night owl
    79. not slept one wink
    80. obvious as a nose on a man's face
    81. off with his head
    82. once more into the breach
    83. one fell swoop
    84. one that loved not wisely but too well
    85. out of the jaws of death
    86. own flesh and blood
    87. pitched battle
    88. pomp and circumstance
    89. pound of flesh
    90. primrose path
    91. refuse to budge an inch
    92. rhyme nor reason
    93. salad days
    94. sea change
    95. seen better days
    96. send him packing
    97. set my teeth on edge
    98. shall I compare thee to a summer's day
    99. the short and long of it
    100. short shrift
    101. sick at heart
    102. shuffle off this mortal coil
    103. snail-paced
    104. something in the wind
    105. a sorry sight
    106. sound and fury
    107. spotless reputation
    108. stony hearted
    109. star-crossed lovers
    110. strange bedfellows
    111. such stuff as dreams are made of
    112. sweets to the sweet
    113. swift as a shadow
    114. the milk of human kindness
    115. the Queen's English
    116. thereby hangs a tale
    117. there's no such thing
    118. there's the rub
    119. this mortal coil
    120. too much of a good thing
    121. tower of strength
    122. towering passion
    123. towering passion
    124. up in arms
    125. vanish into thin air
    126. wear one's heart on one's sleeve
    127. what a piece of work
    128. what the dickens
    129. wild goose chase
    130. witching hour
    131. witching time of night
    132. woe is me
    133. yoeman's service
  12. Shakespeare also invented many "bon mots" which are still in common usage today. Here are some of the most well known:
    1. a plague on both your houses
    2. all's well that ends well
    3. better a witty fool than a foolish wit
    4. brevity is the soul of wit
    5. every dog will have his day
    6. clothes make the man
    7. conscious does make cowards of us all
    8. discretion is the better part of valor
    9. frailty, thy name is woman
    10. how sharper than the serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child
    11. I will wear my heart upon my sleve
    12. it's an ill wind which blows no man to good
    13. jealousy is the green-eyed monster
    14. love is blind
    15. make a virtue of necessity
    16. misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows
    17. neither a borrower nor a lender be
    18. nothing in his life became him like the leaving it
    19. parting is such sweet sorrow
    20. smooth runs the water where the brook is deep (aka "still waters run deep")
    21. something wicked this way comes
    22. the better part of valour is discretion
    23. the course of true love never did run true
    24. the lady doth protest too much
    25. the quality of mercy is not strained
    26. the world's my oyster
    27. though this be madness, yet there is method in it ("there's a method to my madness")
    28. to thine own self be true
    29. truth will out
    30. what fools these mortals be
    31. what's done is done
    32. what's in a name?
    33. what's past is prologue
    34. wish is father to that thought
  13. Some famous quotes from Shakespeare's texts:
    1. A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. (As You Like It)
    2. A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! (Richard III)
    3. A plague on both your houses! (Romeo & Juliet)
    4. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Romeo & Juliet)
    5. Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety, (Antony & Cleopatra)
    6. Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio (Hamlet)
    7. All that glitters is not gold. (Merchant of Venice)
    8. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women mere players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts. (As You Like It)
    9. Beware the ides of March! (Julius Caesar)
    10. Screw your courage to the sticking-place. (Henry V)
    11. Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. (Julius Caesar)
    12. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! (Julius Caesar)
    13. Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! (Macbeth)
    14. Et tu, Brute? (Julius Caesar)
    15. Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog (Macbeth)
    16. Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man! (King Lear)
    17. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears! (Julius Caesar)
    18. Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow! (Romeo & Juliet)
    19. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips. (Henry V)
    20. If music be the food of love, play on! (Twelfth Night)
    21. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? (Merchant of Venice)
    22. Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Macbeth)
    23. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves. (Julius Caesar)
    24. Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth)
    25. Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. (All's Well That Ends Well)
    26. Now is the winter of our discontent. (Richard III)
    27. O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? (Romeo & Juliet)
    28. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! (Henry V)
    29. Screw your courage to the sticking place. (Henry V)
    30. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. (Sonnet 18)
    31. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. (Twelfth Night)
    32. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (Macbeth)
    33. The course of true love never did run smooth. (Midsummer Night's Dream)
    34. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. (Julius Caesar)
    35. The quality of mercy is not strained. (Merchant of Venice)
    36. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  (Hamlet)
    37. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Hamlet)
    38. There's method in my madness. (Hamlet)
    39. This precious stone set in the silver sea ... this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. (Richard II)
    40. To be or not to be, that is the question. (Hamlet)
    41. To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub. (Hamlet)
    42. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. (Henry IV, Part II)
    43. We are such stuff as dreams are made on (The Tempest)
    44. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (Henry V)
    45. What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god. (Hamlet)
    46. What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Romeo & Juliet)
    47. Who ever loved that loved not at first sight? (As You Like It)


  1. What's your source?? :) need to know

  2. Compiled from a bunch of different sources, some online, some from my own reference library. Post was intended to entertain rather than serve as research. Sorry!

  3. Hi,I came upon this post while searching material for my diploma paper which is actually based on words and phrases invented by Shakespeare.I know you said this this was intended to entertain but would you be kind to recommend to me some of the books or sites you've used.I would be very grateful