Shakespeare Saturdays: A Lesson in Language (Or Why Shakespeare Would Have Loved Sinceriously)

Ok, so some of us get peeved when Oxford’s word of the year is something as offensively obtuse as ‘selfie’, but really language is a living, evolving, uncontrollable, and downright beautiful aspect of humanity. We are a species of communicators whose expressive ability stems in large part from the specific words we choose. Let’s be honest, no one misses grunting like a caveman.

As a species, we have become incredibly eloquent (Some more so than others… WTF is YOLO? REALLY? Let’s use our words, people). Typically, you and I use 5,000 words a day and tend to use at least twice that amount in our writing. The average vocabulary of a college-educated English speaker is estimated to be over 80,000. Now, admittedly, I’m not very good with numbers, but that’s a lot of words.

“WORDS, WORDS, WORDS”   – Hamlet Act II, scene ii

So here’s where we tie ol’ Willy into this little tangent. Mister Shakespeare singlehandedly contributed 2,000 words to the English language.

I know what you’re thinking: “WHAT? That’s almost half the amount of words I supposedly speak in a day.”

And: “Dear lord, I hope the twit that invented ‘selfie’ isn’t a competitive wordsmith.”

Of course, Shakespeare got away with a little a lot of invention because nobody had thought to put together a reliable dictionary during his time. Despite a few attempts at alphabetizing the English language in the 1600s there was little success and the resulting tomes were deemed unreliable and far from definitive. Indeed, the first noteworthy example of an English dictionary, the Dictionary of the English Language, was not written until 1755 (spoiler alert: Shakespeare died in 1616).

Now, I’m not going to give you a complete list of Shakespeare’s made-up words because that would be utterly ridiculous and time consuming. Plus, that’s what the internet is for. What I am going to do is pull a smattering of choice quotes from the works of our friend, The Bard, and give you the first recorded uses of a few of my favorites.

MACBETH, ACT I, SCENE VII

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly: if the assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch with his surcease success.” – Macbeth

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, ACT IV, SCENE V

“Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, that have been so bedazzled with the sun that everything I look on seemeth green.” – Katherina

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, ACT V, SCENE III

“Let’s take the instant by the forward top; for we are old, and on our quick’st decrees the inaudible and noiseless foot of Time steals ere we can effect them.” – King of France

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, ACT III, SCENE I

“What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here, so near the cradle of the fairy queen?” – Puck

Personally, I can’t imagine a world without bedrooms, elbows, moonbeams, or eyeballs. I’ve always been a fan of the obscene and, alternately, the majestic. I am suspicious of the premeditated and I am impartial to countless madcap displays of pageantry. Oh! And I adore soft-hearted, well-behaved puppy-dogs.

…I think you see what I’m getting at, dear reader. So as for those mashup words we’ve been seeing more and more of, let’s give history a chance to digest them and remember that people were probably perplexed by words like arouse, bubble, epileptic, and amazement when they were first spoken on Shakespeare’s stage. As it is, I’m all about Stephen Amell’s ‘sinceriously’ campaign and I think Shakespeare would have loved it too. As for ‘fleek’, don’t knock it before history has tried it.

But ‘fetch’ is NEVER going to happen.

-A

http://imgur.com/gallery/uZ5xc – Shakespeare’s editor would have hated fleek…

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