Exploring the Language and Invented Words of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries
 
 

How Many Words did Shakespeare Invent?

 
594
 
 
This tabulation is the result of a months-long effort of painstaking research to come up with, for the first time ever, a reasonably accurate sum of the total number of words which can actually be attributed to having been invented by William Shakespeare.
 
Let us define what is included and not included on this list:
 
What is included in the list: 
    Non-compound words whose earliest appearance in the written English record is in a work attributed to William Shakespeare.
 
What is NOT included: 
1. Compound Words. 
     What counts as a compound word? If a potential word was the result of combining two words, each of which existed as an actual word in its own right around the turn of the 17th century, then it will count as a compound word, and not be encluded in the primary list.
     List of still-commonly used compound-words Shakespeare invented or was the first to record.
 
 2. Words that previously existed, but were used by Shakespeare for the first time in a different part of speech.
     For example, if avouch existed pre-Shakespeare as a verb, and he was the first author to employ avouch as a noun, should avouch be included as an "invented" Shakespeare word? I choose, "no"; however, I will eventually create a separate list of words that satisfy this category, and you may decide for yourself the degree to which you want to count them as "invented" Shakespeare words.
 
3. Previously existing words which Shakespeare gave a new meaning to.
     A project to determine all the words that belong to this category would be so large and so time-consuming to prepare, that I am not even planning to undergo it. The OED differentiates between shades of meaning that are so incremental that it becomes impossible to determine the degree of meaningfulness to say that Shakespeare used such-and-such a word with a particular meaning first.
 
SUMMARY of RESULTS SO FAR
 
(1) The word list will be a disappointment to those who like to credit Shakespeare with a wide variety of "new" words that remain in common modern use. The reality is, the bard's contribution to the English language is much more significant when it comes to phrases  and expressions, rather than to "words". But here too, we will find that much that has been attributed to Shakespeare appeared in the written record prior to Shakespeare.
 
(2) On the other, much ignored are the numerous collocations that Shakespeare created that have become an important part of our language; a collocation is what we might refer to as a natural pairing of or combination of words that don't necessarily qualify as an "expression"; for  example, Shakespeare was the first to describe  a departure as being abrupt, or an appointment as being missed
 

SITE STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Master List of All Words “Invented” by Shakespeare, and links to detailed tables. 

 

Did Shakespeare Really Invent Words?


The Concentrated List: Still-Common Words First Appearing in Works of Shakespeare. 


Did Shakespeare Say it First? Common words and expressions commonly attributed to Shakespeare.


List of Common Words Wrongly Attributed to Shakespeare by the OED.


Why did Shakespeare invent words? 


Methodology.

Exploring the Language and Invented Words of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

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