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Shakespeare Didn’t Coin These 10 Terms, But He Popularized Them


Regardless of your preferences in literature and theater, you have to recognize William Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language and literature. The Bard of Avon helped shape modern English, as before him, English grammar, pronunciation, and spelling were not standardized, and he was the first author to record a specific word or phrase, shaping the English spelling tradition for centuries.

Shakespeare was also one of the most-cited authors in the first major dictionary of the English language, “A Dictionary of the English Language” (1755) by Samuel Johnson. Finally, the Bard created a large number of new words himself, with some researchers estimating that as many as 1,700 new words used to this day were coined by the author.

With some of these words, however, the story is more complicated, and, rather than inventing them per se, Shakespeare was the one who recorded, popularized and created new meanings for them instead. Here is a list of 10 common words that Shakespeare didn’t create, but he definitely made them more popular.

1. Eyeball

Weirdly enough, such an intuitive word as “eyeball” doesn’t appear in the written record until the Middle English period, in the 1570s, to be more precise, where it is still mentioned as “the balle (or globe) of the eye”. And no, we didn't make a mistake, at that time, at least once you transcribe the word into modern English letters, ball was written with an "e". Luckily, this rule was dropped by the time Shakespeare wrote it down, and he made this word very popular in the following citation.

Shakespeare words eyeball

2. Droplet

Yet another term from the 16th century, the word "droplet" was created by combining the word "drop" with a diminutive suffix "-let", which essentially means that it's a small and cute version of a drop. The words "booklet" and "ringlet" were created in the same way.

Shakespeare words driolet

3. Bedazzle

Apart from being a very fun word to say, the word "bedazzle" stems from the 1590s, but Shakespeare wasn't the first one to use it. Interestingly, the meaning of this word shifted a bit with time, as in the past, it used to mean “to dazzle so as to blind or confuse”, but nowadays we use it to say that someone charmed us, even against our will. As for the be- prefix, it is used to intensify a verb, in this case, but it can also be used to transform a noun into a verb, like in the words "bewitch" or "belong".
Shakespeare words bedazzle

4. Swagger

Now this is a word that even a 10-year old would recognize as very contemporary, likely because it's so overused in hip hop music and culture, but the truth is that this word was Shakespeare's favorite as well, and he reportedly used a variation of this word 16 times in his writings, and he was the first one to record it. And while at its origins the word used to mean "to sway repeatedly", since the 1590s, it came to mean "to boast or to brag". No one really knows anymore what this word means today, but everyone is certain that it's something very cool. 
Shakespeare words swagger

5. Inaudible

Created from a combination of the word "audible" with the negative prefix "in-", as in "incredible" or "incorrect", the word "inaudible" meant "unfit to be heard" when it first appeared in the mid-15th century. During Shakespeare's times, however, it seems to have already changed its meaning to "noiseless", as you can tell from the citation below.
Shakespeare words inaudible

6. Well-bred

Although Shakespeare was not the first writer to record this word, as there is evidence suggesting its use in 1585, the Bard is often credited for coining it. This is because he was the one who made it popular. In addition, the meaning of "well-bred" was gradually expanded to being used to describe animals, too, although, in the beginning, it only meant "well-mannered" or "refined".

Shakespeare words well-bred

7. Champion

One of the oldest words on our list, the word "champion" was first recorded in the 13th century in English, and for centuries, it was used only as a noun to denote a valorous warrior who fought in single combat. Shakespeare was the first one to use it as a verb, but in his interpretation, it meant "to challenge someone to a fight", as you can see from this quote from Macbeth. Today, we use this word to say that someone protects or acts as a champion of something or someone, but this meaning appeared in the English language much later, in the 1820s.
Shakespeare words champion

8. Bedroom

Everyone knows what a bedroom is, but before the 1580s, the room we sleep in was actually called "a bedchamber". The way Shakespeare uses this word, however, is somewhat different, and we don't really use "bedroom" to refer to the sleeping space beside someone like he did in A Midsummer Night's Dream. So, in this case, Shakespeare did create a new meaning to an already existing word, but this meaning didn't become as popular as he probably expected.
Shakespeare words bedroom

9. Pageantry

As was the case with "bedroom", Shakespeare's understanding of the word "pageantry" doesn't entail a bad or empty performance or even a glorious display, all these meanings didn't exist until the 1650s. Rather, the Bard of Avon uses it synonymously to a performance of a pageant. A "pageant", in turn, is a 14th-century word that means "a type of theatrical play or spectacle". Confusing, we know, but either way, the Bard didn't come up with the term.
Shakespeare words pageantry
10. Foul-mouthed
The last word on our list is Shakespeare's invention, well, kind of... Although he was the first one to use the specific word "foul-mouthed", there are earlier records of words like "foul-tongued" (1540's) and "foul-spoken" (1580's), which meant the same thing, so it is very likely that the Bard didn't come up with it after all, or at least he was inspired by the other two words we mentioned.
Shakespeare words foul-mouthed
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