Unexpectedly Shakespearean Words

Yesterday was William Shakespeare’s birthday (and also mine!)

It’s commonly said that Shakespeare invented over 1700 words. While it’s true that his plays are the first documented appearance of many words, in most cases he did not just pluck them out of thin air.

The majority are alterations or remixes of preexisting words by adding prefixes and suffixes, changing the part of speech, or combining words. For example, he invented “fashionable” and “circumstantial,” but “fashion” and “circumstance” already existed.

Don’t get me wrong, the Bard and his works are titans of linguistic and literary history, and I am a huge fan. So here I’m highlighting some unexpectedly Shakespearean words.

“Unfriending” someone is much older than social media. The word “unfriended” appears in both Twelfth Night and King Lear.

The word “swagger” first appeared in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was probably a variation on the Middle English verb “swag” meaning “to sway.”

Shakespeare used the first recorded instance of the phrase “one fell swoop” in Macbeth.

Shakespeare was the first person to use the word “prick” to mean… well, definitely not a needle.

The word “hazel” is first recorded as a word describing the color of eyes in Romeo and Juliet. It was considered a reddish-brown color then, like the shell of a hazelnut, rather than the greenish brown we think of today.

The word “foul-mouthed” is first recorded in Henry IV, though the words “foul-tongued and foul-spoken” were recorded before that.

The word “lackluster” first appears in As You Like It. It’s a combination of the Germanic lack and luster, meaning shine, from the Latin lustrare meaning “to brighten.” Shakespeare loved making compound words with “lack,” including “lack-love,” “lack-beard,” and “lack-brain.”

Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe both used the word “gloomy” around the same time, probably based on the Scottish “gloom,” meaning “a sullen or displeased look.”

“Dwindle” first appeared in Henry the Fourth. It is a diminutive form of the Middle English dwinen, meaning “to waste away or fade.”

Oddly enough, the word “bed-room” was first recorded in Othello and Hamlet. Previously, “bedchamber” was far more common.

Shakespeare was the first to use the word “cold-hearted” in Antony and Cleopatra, though “cold-blooded” did exist before that.

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