Words invented by William Shakespeare

Someone has to be the person who has coined more English words than anyone else. It turns out that person is William Shakespeare. Not content with that he also coined more phrases than anyone else too. Here’s a list of phrases coined by Shakespeare.

Actually, just to have the record straight, there are a few other authors who have more new words in works printed in their name. These are:

– Geoffrey Chaucer
– John Trevissa
– Thomas Blount

Chaucer wrote in Middle English and many of the words he coined are now long gone out of use. So, unless we include words like palaestral (of or related to wrestling) or fernyear (yesteryear), we can count him out. Trevissa was a translator and Blount a dictionary maker. Although they were the first to put many English words into print they weren’t words that were invented by them – so we can count them out too.

The Bard was extraordinarily creative in his use of language and he lived at just the right time to exploit his inventiveness. Tudor England was where modern English was born and, being new, the language was open to evolution. 

Early Modern English took the place of Middle English around 1500. Middle English, as spoken by Chaucer, isn’t easily deciphered today, whereas Shakespeare’s English is broadly understandable to most of us.

Shakespeare didn’t coin many of the nouns and verbs in the language. For the most part, these have been with us since the days of Old English, that is, pre-Norman Conquest. What he did do was take existing words and mould them into new forms. For example, when talking about a sneak he described him as sneaking, thus inventing the verb ‘to sneak’. This extending of a noun to form a verb is called verbing, at which Shakespeare was highly adept and prolific. (Note: these ‘verbed’ coinages are listed below as (To) …’)

He also extended words in several simple ways, by adding prefixes or suffixes to existing words. He created numerous negative forms of words by adding negative prefixes. For example:

  Adding dis to the earlier proportion -> disproportion
  Adding in to auspicious -> inauspicious
  Adding lack to lustre -> lacklustre

Hardly earth-shattering as new coinages but, nevertheless, he did it where others hadn’t. Likewise, he made new words by applying a previously unused tense, like ’embarked’ from the earlier ’embark’.

Oddly, ‘verbing’ is frowned on by language pedants – the very people who might admire Shakespeare for doing the same thing. The forming of new verbs like ‘to Google’ is the mark of a vibrant developing language and the Tudor version of such creations flowed out of Shakespeare like water from a tap.

Not all of the Bard’s coinages are still in everyday use. For every widely used fairyland there’s an archaic hodge-pudding. Here’s a selected list of Shakesperian words that we still use…

Accommodation – Othello, 1604:

Most humbly, therefore, bending to your state,
I crave fit disposition for my wife,
Due reference of place and exhibition,
With such accommodation and besort
As levels with her breeding.

Airless – Julius Caesar, 1599:

Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,
Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,
Can be retentive to the strength of spirit;

Amazement – Troilus and Cressida, 1602:

Behold destruction, frenzie, and amazement,
Like witlesse antiques one another meete.

Amazing – Richard II, 1592:

Let thy blowes, doubly redoubled,
Fall like amazing thunder on the caske
Of thy aduerse pernitious enemy.

Apostrophe – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1595:

You finde not the apostraphas, and so misse the accent.

Applause – Merchant of Venice, 1598: 

Hearing applause and universall shoute.

Arch-villain – Measure for Measure, 1604:

As Angelo; even so may Angelo,
In all his dressings, characts, titles, forms,
Be an arch-villain.

(To) Arouse – Henry VI, Part 2, 1591:

Loud houling Wolves arouse the Iades
That dragge the Tragicke melancholy night.

Askance – Lucrece, 1594:

That from their own misdeeds askaunce their eyes.

Bandit – Henry VI, Part 2, 1591:

A Swordar and bandeto slave.

Barefaced – Macbeth, 1606:

So is he mine; and in such bloody distance,
That every minute of his being thrusts
Against my near’st of life; and though I could
With barefac’d power sweep him from my sight.

Battered – Venus and Adonis, 1593:

Over my altars hath he hung his lance,
His batter’d shield, his uncontrolled crest,
And for my sake hath learn’d to sport and dance,
To toy, to wanton, dally, smile, and jest

Be-all – Macbeth, 1606:

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly. If th’ assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here.

(To) Bedazzle – The Taming of the Shrew, 1592:

Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with the sun
That everything I look on seemeth green:
Now I perceive thou art a reverend father

Behaved – Hamlet, 1600:

Her father and myself, lawful espials,
Will so bestow ourselves that, seeing unseen,
We may of their encounter frankly judge,
And gather by him, as he is behav’d,
If’t be th’affliction of his love or no
That thus he suffers for.

Below-stairs – Much Ado about Nothing, 1598:

To have no man come over me! why, shall I always keep below

(To) Besmirch – Hamlet, 1600:

And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will

(To) Bet – Henry VI, Part 2, 1591:

John a Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on
his head.

Bloodstained – Titus Andronicus, 1592:

Why dost not comfort me, and help me out
From this unhallow’d and blood-stained hole?

Blushing – Richard II, 1592:

See, see, King Richard doth himself appear,
As doth the blushing discontented sun
From out the fiery portal of the east.

Boundless – Romeo and Juliet, 1596:

And yet I wish but for the thing I have;
My bounty is as boundless as the sea

Bow-wow – The Tempest, 1611:

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d
The wild waves whist.
Foot it featly here and there,
And sweet sprites bear
The burden. Hark, hark!
Burden dispersedly. Bow-wow.
The watch dogs bark.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry cock-a-diddle-dow.

(To) Castigate – Timon of Athens, 1605:

If thou didst put this sour-cold habit on
To castigate thy pride, ’twere well

(To) Cater – As You Like It, 1599:

He that doth the ravens feed,
Yea, providently caters for the sparrow

(To) Champion – Macbeth, 1606:  

Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come, fate, into the list,
And champion me to th’ utterance!

Circumstantial – As You Like It, 1599:

If again it was not well cut, he would say I lie. This is call’d the Countercheck Quarrelsome. And so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

Cold-hearted – Antony and Cleopatra, 1607:

Anthony: Cold-hearted toward me?
Cleopatra: Ah, dear, if I be so, From my cold heart let heaven engender hail

Compulsive – Hamlet, 1600:

If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn,
And reason panders will.

Consanguineous – Twelfth Night, 1601:

Am not I consanguinious? Am I not of her blood?

Copybook – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1595:

Faire as a text B in a Copy book.

Countless – Venus and Adonis, 1593:

Till he take truce with her contending tears,
Which long have rain’d, making her cheeks all wet;
And one sweet kiss shall pay this countless debt.

Courtship – Richard II, 1592:

Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here and Green
Observed his courtship to the common people

Critic – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1595:

And I, forsooth, in love! I, that have been love’s whip;
A very beadle to a humorous sigh;
A critic, nay, a night-watch constable.

Dauntless – Henry VI, Part 3, 1591:

Yield not thy neck
To fortune’s yoke, but let thy dauntless mind
Still ride in triumph over all mischance.

Dawn – Henry V, 1599:

But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse

Deafening – Henry IV, Part 2, 1598: 

Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deaff’ning clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?

Despised – Romeo and Juliet, 1596:

O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical,
Dove-feather’d raven, wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!

Dewdrop – Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1595:

I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

Downstairs – Henry IV, Part 1, 1596: 

That ever this fellow should have fewer words than a parrot, and yet the son of a woman! His industry is upstairs and downstairs; his eloquence the parcel of a reckoning.

Downtrodden – Henry IV, Part 1, 1596: 

Yea, on his part I’ll empty all these veins,
And shed my dear blood drop by drop in the dust,
But I will lift the down-trod Mortimer
As high in the air as this unthankful king

Drollery – Henry IV, Part 2, 1598: 

For thy walls a pretty slight drollery, or the story of the Prodigal, or the German hunting in water-work, is worth a thousand of these bed-hangings and these fly-bitten tapestries.

Drugged – Macbeth, 1606:  

The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores: I have drugg’d their possets,
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.

(To) Dwindle – Henry IV, Part 1, 1596: 

Bardolph, am I not fallen away vilely since this last action? do I not bate? do I not dwindle?

(To) Elbow – King Lear, 1605:  

A sovereign shame so elbows him. His own unkindness,
That stripp’d her from his benediction, turn’d her
To foreign casualties, gave her dear rights
To his dog-hearted daughters, these things sting
His mind so venomously that burning shame
Detains him from Cordelia.

Epileptic – King Lear, 1605:  

A plague upon your epileptic visage!
Smile you my speeches, as I were a fool?
Goose, if I had you upon Sarum plain,
I’d drive ye cackling home to Camelot. 

Eventful – As You Like It, 1599:

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion

Excitement – Hamlet, 1600:

When honour’s at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men.

Fairyland – Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1595:

Then I must be thy lady; but I know
When thou hast stol’n away from fairyland,
And in the shape of Corin sat all day
Playing on pipes of corn, and versing love
To amorous Phillida.

Featureless – Sonnet 11, 1609:

Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish

Footfall – The Tempest, 1611:

And after bite me; then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way, and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.

Gentlefolk – Richard III, 1594:

We say that Shore’s wife hath a pretty foot,
A cherry lip, a bonny eye, a passing pleasing tongue;
And that the Queen’s kindred are made gentlefolks.

(To) Gibber – Hamlet, 1600:

The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.

Gloomy – Titus Andronicus, 1592:

Lavinia, wert thou thus surpris’d, sweet girl,
Ravish’d and wrong’d as Philomela was,
Forc’d in the ruthless, vast, and gloomy woods?

(To) Gossip – All’s Well That Ends Well, 1606:

His humble ambition, proud humility,
His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet,
His faith, his sweet disaster; with a world
Of pretty, fond, adoptious christendoms
That blinking Cupid gossips.

(To) Graze – Othello, 1604:

Is this the noble Moor, whom our full senate
Call all in all sufficient? Is this the nature
Whom passion could not shake? whose solid virtue
The shot of accident nor dart of chance
Could neither graze nor pierce?

(To) Grovel – Henry VI, Part 2, 1591:

What see’st thou there? King Henry’s diadem,
Enchas’d with all the honours of the world?
If so, gaze on, and grovel on thy face
Until thy head be circled with the same.

(To) Grumble – King Lear, 1605:  

Fool: A spirit, a spirit: he says his name’s poor Tom.
Kent: What art thou that dost grumble there i’ the straw?

Gust – Titus Andronicus, 1592:

You sad-fac’d men, people and sons of Rome,
By uproars sever’d, as a flight of fowl
Scatter’d by winds and high tempestuous gusts?

Hatch – Henry IV, Part 2, 1598: 

There is a history in all men’s lives,
Figuring the natures of the times deceas’d;
The which observ’d, a man may prophesy,
With a near aim, of the main chance of things
As yet not come to life, who in their seeds
And weak beginning lie intreasured.
Such things become the hatch and brood of time.

Hobnail – Henry VI, Part 2, 1591:

I beseech God on my knees thou mayst fall into some smiths hand, and be turn’d to hobnailes.

Hopeful – Richard III, 1594:

If ever he have child, abortive be it,
Prodigious, and untimely brought to light,
Whose ugly and unnatural aspect
May fright the hopeful mother at the view.

Hot-bloodied – The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1601:

The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on.
Now the hot-blooded gods assist me!

(To) Howl – Macbeth, 1606:

Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s off’rings; and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch

(To) Hurry – Venus and Adonis, 1593:

A second fear through all her sinews spread,
Which madly hurries her she knows not whither

Impartial – Richard II, 1592:

Mowbray, impartial are our eyes and ears.

(To) Impede – Macbeth, 1606:

Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round

Inaudible – All’s Well That Ends Well, 1606:

For we are old, and on our quick’st decrees
Th’inaudible and noiseless foot of time
Steals ere we can effect them.

Inauspcious – Romeo and Juliet, 1596:

With worms that are thy chambermaids. O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest;
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh

Indistinguishable – Troilus and Cressida, 1602

Thersites: Do I curse thee?
Patroclus: Why, no, you ruinous butt; you whoreson indistinguishable cur, no.

Lackluster – As You Like It, 1599:

And then he drew a dial from his poke,
And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, ‘It is ten o’clock’.

(To) Lapse – Cymbeline, 1610:

Will poor folks lie,
That have afflictions on them, knowing ’tis
A punishment or trial? Yes; no wonder,
When rich ones scarce tell true. To lapse in fulness
Is sorer than to lie for need

Laughable – Merchant of Venice, 1598: 

That they’ll not show their teeth in way of smile
Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.

Leap-frog – Henry V, 1599:

If I could win a lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting into my
saddle with my armour on my back.

Lonely – Coriolanus

Believe’t not lightly – though I go alone,
Like to a lonely dragon, that his fen
Makes fear’d and talk’d of more than seen

(To) Negotiate – Much Ado about Nothing, 1598:

Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood.

Noiseless – King Lear, 1605:  

That bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs;
Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning
Thine honour from thy suffering; that not know’st
Fools do those villains pity who are punish’d
Ere they have done their mischief. Where’s thy drum?
France spreads his banners in our noiseless land.

(To) Outstay – As You Like It, 1599:

If you outstay the time, upon mine honour,
And in the greatness of my word, you die.

(To) Overpower – Richard II, 1592:

The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw
And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage
To be o’erpow’r’d; and wilt thou, pupil-like,
Take the correction mildly, kiss the rod,
And fawn on rage with base humility,
Which art a lion and the king of beasts?

(To) Pander – Hamlet, 1600:

Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn,
And reason panders will.

Pendulous – King Lear, 1605:  

Now all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hang fated o’er men’s faults light on thy daughters!

Priceless – Lucrece, 1594:

For he the night before, in Tarquin’s tent,
Unlock’d the treasure of his happy state;
What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent
In the possession of his beauteous mate.

Reclusive – Much Ado about Nothing, 1598:

The supposition of the lady’s death
Will quench the wonder of her infamy:
And if it sort not well, you may conceal her,—
As best befits her wounded reputation,—
In some reclusive and religious life,
Out of all eyes, tongues, minds, and injuries.

Reinforcement – Troilus and Cressida, 1602:

Patroclus taken, or slain; and Palamedes
Sore hurt and bruis’d. The dreadful Sagittary
Appals our numbers. Haste we, Diomed,
To reinforcement, or we perish all.

(To) Rival – King Lear, 1605:  

My Lord of Burgundy,
We first address toward you, who with this king
Hath rivall’d for our daughter.

(To) Scuffle – Antony and Cleopatra, 1607:

His captain’s heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy’s lust.

Snail-paced – Richard III, 1594:

Delay leads impotent and snail-pac’d beggary.
Then fiery expedition be my wing,
Jove’s Mercury, and herald for a king!
Go, muster men.

(To) Sneak – Henry IV, Part 1, 1596: 

And – when he was not six-and-twenty strong,
Sick in the world’s regard, wretched and low,
A poor unminded outlaw sneaking home –
My father gave him welcome to the shore.

(To) Squabble – Othello, 1604:

Drunk? and
speak parrot? and squabble? swagger? swear? and discourse fustian with
one’s own shadow?

Stealthy – Macbeth, 1606:

Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s off’rings; and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost.

Stillborn – Henry IV, Part 2, 1598: 

Grant that our hopes – yet likely of fair birth –
Should be still-born, and that we now possess’d
The utmost man of expectation,
I think we are so a body strong enough,
Even as we are, to equal with the King.

(To) Swagger – Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1595:

What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the Fairy Queen?

Swansdown – Antony and Cleopatra, 1607:

Her tongue will not obey her heart, nor can
Her heart inform her tongue—the swan’s-down feather,
That stands upon the swell at the full of tide,
And neither way inclines.

Time-honoured – Richard II, 1592:

Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster,
Hast thou, according to thy oath and band,
Brought hither Henry Hereford, thy bold son,
Here to make good the boist’rous late appeal,
Which then our leisure would not let us hear,
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?

(To) Torture – Henry VI, Part 2, 1591:

Unless it were a bloody murderer,
Or foul felonious thief that fleec’d poor passengers,
I never gave them condign punishment.
Murder indeed, that bloody sin, I tortur’d
Above the felon or what trespass else.

Tranquil – Othello, 1604:

O, now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell,
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
And, O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
The immortal Jove’s dread clamours counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone.

Unaware – Venus and Adonis, 1593:

Whereat amaz’d, as one that unaware
Hath dropp’d a precious jewel in the flood,
Or ’stonish’d as night-wanderers often are,
Their light blown out in some mistrustful wood;
Even so confounded in the dark she lay,
Having lost the fair discovery of her way.

Unclaimed – As You Like It, 1599:

Let me see wherein
My tongue hath wrong’d him: if it do him right,
Then he hath wrong’d himself; if he be free,
Why then my taxing like a wild-goose flies,
Unclaim’d of any man.

Uncomfortable – Romeo and Juliet, 1596:

Despis’d, distressed, hated, martyr’d, kill’d.
Uncomfortable time, why cam’st thou now
To murder, murder our solemnity?

(To) Undervalue – Merchant of Venice, 1598: 

Hearing applause and universall shoute.

(To) Undress – The Taming of the Shrew, 1592:

’Tis much. Servants, leave me and her alone.
Madam, undress you, and come now to bed.

Unearthly – The Winter’s Tale, 1611:

O, the sacrifice!
How ceremonious, solemn, and unearthly,
It was i’ th’ offering!

Unshrinking – Macbeth, 1606:

Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt:
He only liv’d but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his prowess confirm’d
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.

Unsolicited – Titus Andronicus, 1592:

Here, boy, ‘To Pallas’; here ‘To Mercury.’
‘To Saturn,’ Caius – not to Saturnine:
You were as good to shoot against the wind.
To it, boy. Marcus, loose when I bid.
Of my word, I have written to effect;
There’s not a god left unsolicited.

Upstairs – Henry IV, Part 1, 1596: 

That ever this fellow should have fewer words than a parrot, and yet the son of a woman! His industry is upstairs and downstairs; his eloquence the parcel of a reckoning.

Varied – Titus Andronicus, 1592:

O, that delightful engine of her thoughts
That blabb’d them with such pleasing eloquence
Is torn from forth that pretty hollow cage,
Where like a sweet melodious bird it sung
Sweet varied notes, enchanting every ear!

Vunerable – Macbeth, 1606:

Thou losest labour:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress, as make me bleed:
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
To one of woman born.

Watch-dog – The Tempest, 1611:

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d
The wild waves whist.
Foot it featly here and there,
And sweet sprites bear
The burden. Hark, hark!
Burden dispersedly. Bow-wow.
The watch dogs bark.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry cock-a-diddle-dow.

Well-educated – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1595:

Define, define, well-educated infant.

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.