Coining words – from assassination to jobstopper

March 24, 2016 at 9:35 pm | Posted in English Language, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's neologisms | Leave a comment
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shakespearetoastShakespeare introduced 1,700 words and many phrases we still use today. He coined assassination, for instance, from the 8th century Arabic assassin.

Even-handed, far-off, hot-blooded, schooldays, well-respected, are Shakespeare’s too, as are useful, moonbeams, subcontinent. [Without him we wouldn’t have the phrases] laughing yourself into stitches, setting your teeth on edge, not sleeping a wink, being cruel to be kind, and playing fast and loose.

In my English Honours degree we studied all the plays and many sonnets but that was a long time ago and it’s great to read a neat summary of some of Shakespeare’s achievements. Ben Crystal reminds us of the above list of words and phrases in his Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a taste for the bard (Icon, 2016). It’s an engaging, funny, accessible little book for a reminder of or an introduction to Shakespeare’s genius with language.

When I was little we had the book Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. It was a favourite and in King Lear I remember the picture of Cordelia, appearing to be asleep, wearing what I thought was a beautiful pale green nightie, her blonde plait hanging down her back. The caption said: ‘And Cordelia ended her life in prison.’

At five or six I couldn’t make any sense of the plot from Romeo and Juliet and I asked my older sister, why couldn’t they just agree not to see each other if it was going to cause so much trouble? No matter how she tried to explain romantic love she couldn’t make me understand such irrational behaviour.

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