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Words Shakespeare Invented

William ShakespeareDo you remember being in high or middle school and reading Shakespeare for the first time? The Bard might as well have been writing in a foreign language! All those “thous” and “anons” have been confusing young people for centuries.

Those kids, today, are probably not too happy that April is Shakespeare’s birthday, as their teachers are using the date as an excuse to make them read Romeo & Juliet for the third time. (Why did it always have to be Romeo & Juliet?) However, these same students probably don’t realize that the man they groan over invented quite a few of the words they use every day. How many? Oh, only around 1,700 or so. Let’s take a look at just a few!

“When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain”


Many a young, bitter teenager writing poetry in their bedroom at night has used this one. They probably had no idea it came from The Bard himself, though. It was first penned in Henry V and means to make someone lose their confidence or determination.

“Dis” means “the opposite of” where “heart” here is used in a figurative way, as in spirit or vigor.


Another favorite imaged used by emo kids everywhere is the soft light of a moonbeam. Yet again, this one comes straight from Will himself! It was first used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream during a speech Titania gives about the now donkey-faced Bottom.

Of course the word is a portmanteau of “moon” and “beam.” But have you ever wondered why it’s called a “beam” of light? The word was first used even before the 12th century and comes from the Old English for a certain type of tree, the beam tree. Presumably, boards were cut out of this tree, and then sometime over the years someone associated a stream of light with these boards!


ClueCan you imagine not having this word? Crime thrillers and the Hardy Boys would be an entirely different world. But no, before Shakespeare wrote Othello, the word “hint” was nowhere to be found.

It comes from the Middle English “hinten” which means to catch or grasp. If you want to help someone grasp something, like a concept or answer, then you would give them a hint. Makes sense! Before that, if you wanted to give someone an idea on how to solve a puzzle, you were just out of luck.


Ooh la la! This word is sure to get a titter out of those bored high schoolers. However, when Shakespeare invented the word, it didn’t quite mean the same thing prepubescents think of today. It’s first used in Henry VI to describe the howling of wolves upsetting tired horses. Not quite scandalous.

Of course “to stir or excite” is the main definition of the word. In fact, it’s derived from forms of “arise,” as it’s mainly used in getting someone to wake up. Say, for instance, bored English students.