Coined by the Immortal Bard: Popular Words and Phrases

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Many of the words and phrases we casually toss about in our everyday conversations can be traced back to a man who is considered the greatest writer of the English language, William Shakespeare. He boldly toyed with the language–as any good writer should–turning nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, adding prefixes and suffixes, and joining unrelated words to create new definitions. Below is a list of a few of the phrases and words coined by the immortal bard:

Phrases:

  • All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice)(“glisters”)
  • All’s well that ends well (title)
  • As good luck would have it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • As merry as the day is long (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)
  • Bated breath (The Merchant of Venice)
  • Bear a charmed life (Macbeth)
  • Be-all and the end-all (Macbeth)
  • Better foot before (“best foot forward”) (King John)
  • The better part of valor is discretion (I Henry IV; possibly already a known saying)
  • In a better world than this (As You Like It)
  • Brave new world (The Tempest)
  • Break the ice (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • Breathed his last (3 Henry VI)
  • Brevity is the soul of wit (Hamlet)
  • Refuse to budge an inch (Measure for Measure / Taming of the Shrew)
  • Cold comfort (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)
  • Come what come may (“come what may”) (Macbeth)
  • Dead as a doornail (2 Henry VI)
  • A dish fit for the gods (Julius Caesar)
  • Dog will have his day (Hamlet; quoted earlier by Erasmus and Queen Elizabeth)
  • Devil incarnate (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)
  • Eaten me out of house and home (2 Henry IV)
  • Elbow room (King John; first attested 1540 according to Merriam-Webster)
  • Faint hearted (I Henry VI)
  • Fancy-free (Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • Fight till the last gasp (I Henry VI)
  • Flaming youth (Hamlet)
  • Forever and a day (As You Like It)
  • For goodness’ sake (Henry VIII)
  • Foregone conclusion (Othello)
  • Full circle (King Lear)
  • The game is afoot (I Henry IV)
  • The game is up (Cymbeline)
  • Give the devil his due (I Henry IV)
  • Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
  • Jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
  • It was Greek to me (Julius Caesar)
  • Heart of gold (Henry V)
  • ‘Tis high time (The Comedy of Errors)
  • Hoist with his own petard (Hamlet)
  • Household words (Henry V)
  • Improbable fiction (Twelfth Night)
  • In a pickle (The Tempest)
  • In my heart of hearts (Hamlet)
  • In my mind’s eye (Hamlet)
  • Infinite space (Hamlet)
  • Infirm of purpose (Macbeth)
  • It is but so-so(As You Like It)
  • It smells to heaven (Hamlet)
  • Itching palm (Julius Caesar)
  • Kill with kindness (Taming of the Shrew)
  • Killing frost (Henry VIII)
  • Knit brow (The Rape of Lucrece)
  • Knock knock! Who’s there? (Macbeth)
  • Laid on with a trowel (As You Like It)
  • Laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • Laugh yourself into stitches (Twelfth Night)
  • Lean and hungry look (Julius Caesar)
  • Lie low (Much Ado about Nothing)
  • Live long day (Julius Caesar)
  • Love is blind (Merchant of Venice)
  • Melted into thin air (The Tempest)
  • Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (“There’s a method to my madness”) (Hamlet)
  • Make a virtue of necessity (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)
  • Milk of human kindness (Macbeth)
  • Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows (The Tempest)
  • Much Ado About Nothing (title)
  • Murder most foul (Hamlet)
  • Naked truth (Love’s Labours Lost)
  • Neither rhyme nor reason (As You Like It)
  • Not slept one wink (Cymbeline)
  • [Obvious] as a nose on a man’s face (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)
  • One fell swoop (Macbeth)
  • Time is out of joint (Hamlet)
  • Out of the jaws of death (Twelfth Night)
  • Own flesh and blood (Hamlet)
  • Star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Parting is such sweet sorrow (Romeo and Juliet)
  • What’s past is prologue (The Tempest)
  • [What] a piece of work [is man] (Hamlet)
  • Pitched battle (Taming of the Shrew)
  • Play fast and loose (King John)
  • Pomp and circumstance (Othello)
  • Primrose path (Hamlet)
  • Quality of mercy is not strained (The Merchant of Venice)
  • Salad days (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • Seen better days (As You Like It? Timon of Athens?)
  • Send packing (I Henry IV)
  • Make short shrift (Richard III)
  • Sick at heart (Hamlet)
  • Snail paced (Troilus and Cressida)
  • Something in the wind (The Comedy of Errors)
  • Something wicked this way comes (Macbeth)
  • A sorry sight (Macbeth)
  • Sound and fury (Macbeth)
  • Spotless reputation (Richard II)
  • Stony hearted (I Henry IV)
  • Such stuff as dreams are made on (The Tempest)
  • Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep (“Still waters run deep”) (2 Henry VI)
  • The short and the long of it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • Sweets to the sweet (Hamlet)
  • Swift as a shadow (A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Set my teeth on edge (I Henry IV)
  • Tell truth and shame the devil (1 Henry IV)
  • There’s no such thing (?) (Macbeth)
  • There’s the rub (Hamlet)
  • This mortal coil (Hamlet)
  • To gild refined gold, to pain the lily (“to gild the lily”) (King John)
  • To thine own self be true (Hamlet)
  • Too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
  • Tower of strength (Richard III)
  • Towering passion (Hamlet)
  • Trippingly on the tongue (Hamlet)
  • Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)
  • What’s done is done (Macbeth)
  • What the dickens (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Working-day world (As You Like It)
  • The world’s my oyster (Merry Wives of Windsor)

Words: 

  • accommodation (Othello)
  • accused (n.) (Richard II — first known use as a noun, meaning person accused of a crime)
  • addiction (Henry V / Othello)
  • admirable (several; seems unlikely)
  • advertising (adj.)(Measure for Measure; in context, means “being attentive”; the noun was already in use)
  • aerial (Othello)
  • alligator (Romeo and Juliet; Spanish “aligarto” was already in use in English)
  • amazement (13 instances; first known use as a noun)
  • anchovy (I Henry IV; first attestation in English of the Spanish word for dried edible fish)
  • apostrophe (“apostrophas”)(Love’s Labour’s Lost; seems to be a well-known word already)
  • arch-villain (Measure for Measure / Timon of Athens)
  • to arouse (2 Henry VI / Hamlet; “rouse” was the usual form)
  • assassination (Macbeth; “assassin” was already in use and derives from “hashish eater”)
  • auspicious (several; “auspice” was a Roman practice of fortune-telling by bird flight)
  • backing (I Henry VI; this is just a pun on a known word)
  • bandit (II Henry VI, actually “bandetto”, the first attestation in English of a familiar Italian word for people “banned”, i.e., outlaws)
  • barefaced (in the sense of “barefaced power”) (Macbeth)
  • baseless (in the sense of fantasy without grounding in fact) (The Tempest)
  • beached (several, merely means “possessing a beach”)
  • bedazzled (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • bedroom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, merely means a place to sleep on the ground)
  • belongings (Measure for Measure)
  • to besmirch (Henry V)
  • birthplace (Coriolanus; first attestation)
  • to blanket (King Lear; first use as a verb)
  • bloodstained (I Henry IV)
  • blusterer (A Lover’s Complaint)
  • bold-faced (I Henry VI)
  • bottled (Richard III)
  • bump (Romeo and Juliet; first attestation of onomopoeic word)
  • buzzer (Hamlet; means gossipper)
  • to cake (Timon of Athens, first attestation as a verb)
  • to castigate (Timon of Athens)
  • to cater (As You Like It; from coetous, a buyer of provisions)
  • clangor (3 Henry VI / 2 Henry IV)
  • to champion (Macbeth; first attestation as a verb, and in an older sense of “to challenge”; though the noun was familiar as someone who would fight for another)
  • circumstantial (As You Like It / Cymbeline; first attestation in the sense of “indirect”)
  • cold-blooded (King John; first use to mean “lack of emotion”)
  • coldhearted (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • compact (several; seems to have been a common word)
  • to comply (Othello)
  • to compromise (The Merchant of Venice, several of the histories; seems to have been already in use)
  • to cow (Macbeth; first use in English of a Scandinavian verb)
  • consanguineous (Twelfth Night; “consanguinity” was already in use)
  • control (n.) (Twelfth Night)
  • countless (Titus Andronicus / Pericles)
  • courtship (several, seems unikely)
  • critic (Love’s Labour’s Lost; Latin term)
  • critical (not in today’s sense) (Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • cruelhearted (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)
  • Dalmatians (Cymbeline)
  • dauntless (Macbeth)
  • dawn (I Henry IV, King John; first use as a noun, the standard had been “dawning”)
  • day’s work (several, must have been a common expression)
  • deafening (II Henry IV; in the sense of a noise that is loud but does not produce real deafness)
  • to denote (several; already a word in Latin)
  • depository
  • discontent (Richard III / Titus Andronicus; the verb was in use but this is the first attestation as a noun)
  • design (several, seems unlikely)
  • dexterously (Twelfth Night)
  • dialogue (several, seems already familiar)
  • disgraceful (I Henry VI; means “not graceful”)
  • dishearten (Henry V)
  • to dislocate (King Lear, refers to anatomy)
  • distasteful (Timon of Athens)
  • distracted (Hamlet / Measure for Measure; seems possible)
  • divest (Henry V / King Lear; probably already in use as referring to a royal title)
  • domineering (Love’s Labour’s Lost; from a Dutch word)
  • downstairs (I Henry IV, supposedly first use as an adjective)
  • droplet (Timon of Athens)
  • to drug (Macbeth; first use as a verb)
  • to dwindle (I Henry IV / Macbeth, seems already familiar as a term for body wasting)
  • to educate (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • to elbow (King Lear; first use as a verb)
  • embrace (I Henry VI; first use as a noun)
  • employer (Much Ado about Nothing)
  • employment (several, obviously familiar)
  • engagement (several, seems simply the first attestation)
  • to enmesh (Othello)
  • to ensnare (Othello)
  • enrapt (Troilus and Cressida)
  • enthroned (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • epileptic (King Lear; first use as an adjective, though the noun was old)
  • equivocal (Othello / All’s Well that Ends Well; first use as adjective, though the verb “to equivocate” was familiar)
  • eventful (As You Like It)
  • excitement (Hamlet / Troilus and Cressida; both times as plural; first use as a noun)
  • expedience (several, supposedly first use as noun)
  • exposure (several, supposedly first use as noun)
  • eyeball (The Tempest)
  • eyedrops (II Henry IV; means “tears”)
  • eyesore (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • fanged (Hamlet, first attestation)
  • farmhouse (The Merry Wives of Windsor; first known use of the compound)
  • far-off (several, seems already familiar)
  • fashionable (Timon of Athens / Troilus and Cressida)
  • fathomless (not today’s sense) (Troilus and Cressida)
  • fitful (Macbeth)
  • fixture (not current sense) (Merry Wives of Windsor / Winter’s Tale)
  • flawed (King Lear; first use as an adjective)
  • flowery (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • foppish (King Lear)
  • fortune-teller (The Comedy of Errors)
  • to forward (I Henry IV; first use as a verb)
  • foul-mouthed (several, seems already familiar)
  • freezing (Cymbeline)
  • frugal (several; “frugality” was already in common use)
  • full-grown (Pericles)
  • gallantry (Troilus and Cressida)
  • generous (several, obviously already known)
  • gloomy (several, “to gloom” was a verb)
  • glow (several; the word had originally meant red-and-warm)
  • gnarled (Measure for Measure; alteration of knurled which was a standard word for bumpy)
  • go-between (several, seems familiar)
  • to gossip (The Comedy of Errors; first use as a verb; “gossip” was one’s familiar friends)
  • gust (III Henry VI, seems already familiar and was an Old Norse word)
  • half-blooded (King Lear)
  • hint (Othello, first use in today’s sense)
  • hob-nails (I Henry IV, alleged; seems already familiar)
  • hobnob (Twelfth Night; older term was “hab, nab”, and not in today’s sense)
  • homely (several, seems already familiar)
  • honey-tongued (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • hoodwinked (already known from falconry)
  • hostile (several, seems like a word that is already familiar)
  • hot-blooded (The Merry Wives of Windsor / King Lear)
  • housekeeping (The Taming of the Shrew; seems unlikely)
  • howl (several, clearly familiar)
  • to humor (Love’s Labour’s Lost, first attestation as a verb)
  • hunchbacked (can’t find)
  • to hurry (Comedy of Errors, first attestation as verb)
  • ill-tempered (can’t find)
  • immediacy (King Lear, first use as noun)
  • impartial (2 Henry IV)
  • to impede (Macbeth, first use as verb, though “impediment” was already widely used)
  • import (several, and not used in the modern sense)
  • immediacy (King Lear, first attestation as a noun)
  • importantly (Cymbeline, first attestation as an adverb)
  • inaudible (All’s Well that Ends Well; “audible” was already in use)
  • inauspicious (Romeo and Juliet)
  • indistinguishable (not in today’s sense)(Troilus and Cressida)
  • inducement (several, seems unlikely)
  • investment (II Henry IV, not in present sense)
  • invitation (The Merry Wives of Windsor; signifies “flirting”)
  • invulnerable King John / Hamlet / The Tempest; first attestation for the negative; Coriolanus has unvulnerable)
  • jaded (several, seems already a term of contempt)
  • Judgement Day (I Henry VI; usual term had been “Day of Judgement”)
  • juiced (Merry Wives of Windsor; first attestation as an adjective)
  • kissing (several, first attestation of the participle, though surely not its first use)
  • lackluster (As You Like It)
  • ladybird (Romeo and Juliet)
  • to lament (several, seems already familiare)
  • to lapse (several, first attestation as a verb, though already familiar as a noun)
  • to launder (first use as a verb; “laundress” was in common use)
  • laughable (The Merchant of Venice)
  • leaky (Antony and Cleopatra / The Tempest)
  • leapfrog (Henry V; first attestation but seems unlikely as a coinage)
  • lonely (several, seems unlikely)
  • long-legged (can’t find)
  • love letter (can’t find)
  • to lower (several, seems already known)
  • luggage (first use as noun)
  • lustrous (Twelfth Night / All’s Well that Ends Well)
  • madcap (several, attestation as adjective; the noun had become popular just before)
  • majestic (several, first use as adjective)
  • majestically (I Henry IV; first attestation as adverb)
  • malignancy (Twelfth Night, seems possible)
  • manager (Love’s Labour’s Lost / Midsummer Night’s Dream; first attestation as noun)
  • marketable (As You Like It; first use as adjective)
  • militarist (All’s Well that Ends Well)
  • mimic (Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • misgiving (Julius Caesar; first use as noun, though “to misgive” was in common use)
  • misplaced (several, seems unlikely)
  • to misquote (1 Henry IV; not in the present sense)
  • money’s worth (Love’s Labours Lost)
  • monumental (several, seems unlikely)
  • moonbeam (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • mortifying (Merchant of Venice / Much Ado About Nothing )
  • motionless (Henry V)
  • mountaineer (Cymbeline; the sense is “hillbilly”)
  • multitudinous (Macbeth)
  • neglect (several, obviously already known)
  • to negotiate (Much Ado about Nothing / Twelfth Night; verb from the Latin)
  • new-fallen (Venus and Adonis / I Henry IV)
  • new-fangled (Love’s Labour’s Lost / As You Like It)
  • nimble-footed (several, seems already a familiar expression)
  • noiseless (King Lear / All’s Well that Ends Well)
  • to numb (King Lear, first attestation as a transitive verb)
  • obscene (several; straight from Latin)
  • obsequiously (first use of the adverb; comes from “obsequies”, or funeral rites)
  • outbreak (Hamlet, first attestation as a noun)
  • to outdare (I Henry IV)
  • to outgrow (can’t find)
  • to outweigh (can’t find)
  • over-cool (II Henry IV)
  • overgrowth (can’t find)
  • over-ripened (II Henry VI ;first-use of the familiar compound)
  • over-weathered The Merchant of Venice)
  • overview (can’t find)
  • pageantry (Pericles Prince of Tyre)
  • pale-faced (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • to pander (several; was already a proverb)
  • pedant (several, seems already in common use for a stuffy teacher)
  • perplex (King John / Cymbeline)
  • perusal (Sonnets / Hamlet; first use as a noun)
  • to petition (Antony and Cleopatra / Coriolanus; first use as a verb)
  • pious (several, seems very unlikely)
  • posture (several, seems known)
  • premeditated (several; first attestation of the adjective, though the noun was in use)
  • priceless
  • Promethean (Othello / Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • protester (not today’s sense) (Julius Caesar)
  • published (2 Henry VI)
  • puking (As You Like It)
  • puppy-dog (King John / Henry V)
  • on purpose (several; seems very unlikely)
  • quarrelsome (As You Like It / Taming of the Shrew)
  • questing (As You Like It; first use of the gerund)
  • in question (several, seems already in use)
  • radiance (several; first use as noun)
  • to rant (The Merry Wives of Windsor / Hamlet; loan-word from Dutch or previously-unattested English word?)
  • rancorous (2 Henry VI, Comedy of Errors, Richard III, all early plays, seems unlikely)
  • raw-boned (I Henry VI)
  • reclusive (Much Ado about Nothing; first use as adjective)
  • reinforcement (Troilus and Cressida / Coriolanus; seems already in use)
  • reliance
  • remorseless (several, first attestation of this form)
  • reprieve (several, obviously already in use)
  • resolve (several, obviously already in use)
  • restoration (King Lear)
  • restraint (several, seems already familiar)
  • retirement (II Henry IV; refers to military retreat; first use as noun)
  • revolting (several, obviously already familiar)
  • to rival (King Lear; first attestation as verb; noun was well-known)
  • rival (Midsummer Night’s Dream; first attestation as adjective, noun was well-known)
  • roadway (II Henry IV; first attestation of the compound)
  • rumination (As You Like It; first use as noun)
  • sacrificial (Timon of Athens; not today’s usage)
  • sanctimonious (Measure for Measure / Tempest)
  • satisfying (Othello / Cymbeline)
  • savage (several; the word was obviously already in use)
  • savagery (King John / Henry V; first use as this form)
  • schoolboy (Julius Caesar / Much Ado about Nothing)
  • scrubbed (The Merchant of Venice)
  • scuffle (Antony and Cleopatra; first use as noun, though the verb was familiar)
  • seamy-side (Othello)
  • to secure (II Henry VI; first use as a verb; the adjective was well-known)
  • shipwrecked (Pericles Prince of Tyre, seems unlikely)
  • shooting star (Richard II; first known use of the phrase)
  • shudder (Timon of Athens; first use as a noun; verb already well-known)
  • silk (alleged; obviously not Shakespeare’s)
  • stocking (obviously not Shakespeare’s)
  • silliness (Othello)
  • skim milk (I Henry IV; first use of the familiar term)
  • to sneak (Measure for Measure; supposed first use of the verb)
  • soft-hearted (2 Henry VI / 3 Henry VI; first use of the familiar phrase)
  • spectacled (Coriolanus; not in today’s sense)
  • splitting (II Henry VI; first use as adjective)
  • sportive (Richard III / Comedy of Errors / All’s Well that Ends Well; supposed first use)
  • to squabble (Othello; supposed first use, as with “to swagger”)
  • stealthy (Macbeth; first use as adjective)
  • stillborn (can’t find, obviously not Shakespeare’s)
  • to submerge (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • successful (Titus Andronicus, seems dubious)
  • suffocating (Othello; supposed first use as a descriptor)
  • to sully (I Henry VI)
  • superscript (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • to supervise (Love’s Labour’s Lost; also Hamlet but not in today’s sense)
  • to swagger (II Henry IV, others; in context this seems to be already a well-known word)
  • switch (first use to mean “twig”)
  • tardily (All’s Well that Ends Well; first use of adverb)
  • tardiness (King Lear; “tardy” as adjective was well-known)
  • threateningly (All’s Well that Ends Well; first use of the adverb)
  • tightly (The Merry Wives of Windsor; first use as an adverb)
  • time-honored (Richard II)
  • title page (can’t find; seems unlikely)
  • to torture (several; first use as a verb)
  • traditional (Richard III; first use as adjective)
  • tranquil (Othello; “tranquility” was an old word)
  • transcendence (All’s Well that Ends Well; first attestation of the noun)
  • tongue-tied (III Henry VI / Julius Caesar / Troilus and Cressida; seems first attestation of a phrase already in use)
  • unaccommodated (King Lear)
  • unaware (Venus and Adonis; first use as an adverb; the adjective was not yet in use)
  • to unclog (Coriolanus, first use as a negative)
  • unappeased (Titus Andronicus)
  • unchanging (The Merchant of Venice)
  • unclaimed (As You Like It; not in today’s sense)
  • uncomfortable (Romeo and Juliet)
  • to uncurl
  • to undervalue (The Merchant of Venice)
  • to undress (The Taming of the Shrew; seems unlikely)
  • unearthly (Winter’s Tale)
  • uneducated (Love’s Labour’s Lost, seems possible)
  • ungoverned (Richard III / King Lear)
  • to unhand (Hamlet)
  • unmitigated (Much Ado about Nothing)
  • unpublished (King Lear; in the sense of “still unknown”)
  • unreal (Macbeth, first use of the negative)
  • unsolicited (Titus Andronicus / Henry VIII; supposed first use of the form)
  • unswayed (Richard III; not in today’s sense, but “is the sword unswung?”)
  • unwillingness (Richard III / Richard II)
  • upstairs (I Henry IV; supposedly first use as an adjective)
  • urging (Richard III / Comedy of Errors; first attestation as a noun
  • useful (several, seems already familiar)
  • varied (Love’s Labour’s Lost, others)
  • vastly (Rape of Lucrece, not present sense)
  • viewless (Measure for Measure; means “invisible”)
  • vulnerable (Macbeth; used in today’s sense)
  • watchdog (The Tempest; first use of the phrase)
  • well-behaved (The Merry Wives of Windsor; first known use of the compound)
  • well-bred (II Henry IV; first use of the familiar compound)
  • well-read (I Henry IV)
  • whirligig (Twelfth Night)
  • to widen
  • widowed (Sonnet 97 / Coriolanus; first use as an adjective)
  • worn out (Romeo and Juliet / 2 Henry IV; seems unlikely)
  • worthless (III Henry VI, several others; seems just a first attestation)
  • yelping (I Henry VI; first attestation of this adjectival form)
  • zany (Love’s Labour Lost; simply a loan-word from Italian commedia dell’arte)

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