At the end of the 16th century Europe was just wrapping up with the Medieval period and freshening up for the coming Renaissance. Russia was nearing the end of Ivan the Terrible, and England had just gotten past King Henry VIII with his beheading phase. A young upstart by the name of William Shakespeare was feverishly writing plays about the sorts of things never seen before… the troubles of everyday life.
Shakespeare is credited with inventing thousands of words and phrases that we still use today, but it’s not quite as simple as that. (imagine yourself going to a play with a few hundred made-up words… how could you follow it?) Rather, it’s a question of timing, and Shakespeare was there to adopt these words, writing them down and embedding them into the culture.
It was right around this time that English was first accepted as a legitimate language. Prior to that decree, all legal business in England was conducted in French, and academic writings were in Latin. So, with Shakespeare being one of the early significant English authors, his influence was strong. Many of his colourful phrases remain in common use.
- Break the ice
- Clothes make the man
- Elbow room
- Give the devil his due
- Heart of gold
- Too much of a good thing
- In a pickle
I’m hesitant to give him too much credit for inventing all the individual words, but it was his record that spread them far and wide. Frugal, gloomy, countless, critic and thousands more show up first in the bard’s manuscripts.
*Footnote: I used the word “enwisened” off the top of my head when speaking to an audience last Saturday. Turns out, I can’t lay claim as it was previously recorded in the 1997 book “Women Who Run With Wolves”.