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Three everyday words invented by William Shakespeare

There are some academics who would argue that Shakespeare was more a poet than a playwright, what with his 154 sonnets and every one of his plays being written in iambic pentameter (lines of 10 syllables with every second syllable being stressed). What is beyond doubt, though, is that the bard had a way with words.

Shakespeare didn’t limit his words to the ones in 16th and 17th Century usage, though, as he was happy to  make them up himself (or at least claim the earliest written record of them). In fact, hundreds of the words we use today appeared first in the comedies, tragedies, and historical plays of the Stratford-upon-Avon penman. Here are just three of them:

1. Addiction

A word that you’re always likely to see in the gossip columns of tabloid newspapers today in a write-up of a perceived wayward celebrity’s behaviour, the first person to be described as having an ‘addiction’ was Henry V.

In the 1598-99 play, the Archbishop of Canterbury comments that the king’s “addiction was to courses vain” during his youth, thus making it surprising that he developed into a well-spoken and pious monarch.

2. Bump

If you have young children, ‘bumps’ are probably everyday occurrences for you, whether it’s because they don’t look where they’re going, or because they develop them on parts of their body as a consequence.

Even Juliet, as graceful as she may have been, was not averse to this as a child. A nurse in Romeo and Juliet recalls the young Capulet having “a bump as big as a young cockerel’s stone” as a baby. In modern English (though perhaps not modern medical terminology), she was comparing the bump’s size to that of a rooster’s testicle.

3. Eyeball

Shakespeare is responsible for the first printed record of a word describing the spherical nature of the human eye, used in Act III of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

When Oberon instructs his servant, the mischievous elf Puck, to insert the juice of a flower into Lysander’s eyes as he sleeps, he states that it will “make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight”. Puck himself is the source of much of the eyeball rolling in the play though, with his persistent tinkering and tomfoolery.

Perhaps the ultimate accolade for any wordsmith is to create a word that goes on to be in common usage, through it’s unlikely that any will ever achieve this on the same scale as Shakespeare did.

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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