The Oxford English Dictionary, in its infinite wisdom, includes word provenance alongside definition. It always outlines the first time a word actually appeared in written English … and one person is disproportionately represented in terms of the authorship of such mentions.
That person’s name is William Shakespeare … or perhaps her name was Emilia Bassano. Yes, many believe the Bard was actually a woman–The Atlantic recently outlined compelling evidence that suggests that this is the case.
Woman or man, the most comprehensive outline of the prolific author’s invented words is in a book called The Shakespeare Key by Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke. In their words, “Shakespeare, with the right and might of a true poet, and with his peculiar royal privilege as king of all poets, has minted several words that deserve to become current in our language.”
Become current, they have. It’s extraordinary to note just how common many of them are–words like bedroom, bump, invitation, negotiate, useful, and upstairs.
As a writer, I am simply astounded that one person is responsible for forwarding our language so dramatically. It’s a reminder of what the power of creativity can accomplish–it can change the very foundation of how we communicate.
Never underestimate the power of your sheer joyous, raucous creativity. It’s innovation in motion.
Here are 117 words you will recognize … none of which existed before Shakespeare got her/his hands on a quill:
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