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Did Shakespeare Say It First? Actually, Shakespeare never used the expression all of a sudden.
Shakespeare used the abbreviated phrase of a sudden instead. And he was NOT the first author to use the expression of a sudden.
Earliest Known and Confirmed Appearance.
1. of a sudden; while the words of a sudden appear as early as 1494, the earliest use of this expression which takes on its modern meaning of "suddenly" is from 1533.
1533, The apologye of syr Thomas More knyght, by Thomas More (1478-1535).
"...afterwarde he brought me word that it was answered not beyond the see, but here wythin the realme / not by any booke specyally made agaynste it, but in a sermon onys or wyes openly preched: how be it not of a sodayn brayed, but fore studyed and penned."
2. all of a sudden.
1577, The auncient ecclesiasticall histories of the first six hundred yeares after Christ, a collection of the historical writings of Eusebius, Socrates, Euagrius and Saint Dorotheus, translated from the ancient Greek by Meredith Hanmer (1543-1604).
"all of a sodayne with one voyce...ambrose was chosen byshop of millayne."
3. of the sudden.
1570, The elements of geometrie of the most auncient philosopher Euclide of Megara. A translation of the works of Euclid by Sir Henry Billingsley (d. 1606). The expression appears in an appended article by John Dee (1527-1608).
"I thinke, that none can iustly account them selues Architectes, of the suddeyne. But they onely, who from their childes yeares, ascendyng by these degrees of knowledges, beyng fostered vp with the atteynyng of many Languages and Artes, haue wonne to the high Tabernacle of Archicture. &c."
We note here that the OED, in its entry for this collection of expressions, asserts that of the sudden was the one that appeared first (1570, same citation as above); its earliest citation for of a sudden is from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew (1623)).
Examples of Pre-Shakespearean Usage.
1. all of a sudden.
1577 work entitled The auncient ecclesiasticall histories of the first six hundred yeares after Christ, wrytten in the Greeke tongue by three learned historiographers, Eusebius, Socrates, and Euagrius:
"After that his presence had preuayled very much with the people, after that he had geuen them many notable exhortations, after he had mitigated the rage of the heady and rashe multitude: all of a sodayne with one voyce and with one mouth nominated Ambrose to their byshop."
Our expression appears on the right-hand page (page 337), 8th line from the top; it is written all of a sodayne.
Appearances in Shakespeare:
The expression of a sudden appears in two different Shakespeare plays.
1. The Taming of the Shrew (1623), Act I, Scene i:
I pray sir tel me, is it possible
That loue should of a sodaine take such hold.
I pray, sir, tell me, is it possible
That love should of a sudden take such hold?
Spelling was haphazard in the 16th and 17th centuries, to say the least; sudden with an 'o' was more common in the 16th century, the 'u' slowly supplanting it in the 17th century.
But even so , the variety of spellings for sudden are staggering: sodaine, sodeyn, sodein, suden, suddain, etc.