7 Words and Phrases Invented by Shakespeare

Whether you're 'uncomfortable' or 'fashionable', you owe it all to the bard

By Google Arts & Culture

LIFE Photo Collection

Even today, over 400 years after his death, Shakespeare is thought of as one of the greatest English language writers of all time. His stories have inspired films, paintings, songs, and poetry and his characters are some of the most iconic ever created.

Unsurprisingly, one area where Shakespeare has had a particularly significant influence is the English language. The Bard invented and popularized a number of new words and phrases, transforming the way we speak in the process. Here are just a few of our favorites.    

Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez dancing in Romeo & Juliet by Bill CooperEnglish National Ballet

1. "Uncomfortable"

Shakespeare was very fond of creating new words by attaching prefixes or suffixes to existing phrases. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare popped ‘un’ in front of ‘comfortable’ to create a word that’s now used everyday by people around the world. The word is used by Juliet’s father as he mourns his daughter’s suicide.

Pandarus and Cressida (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 1, Scene 2) (1825–40) by William Shakespeare|Henry Corbould|Charles RollsThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. "Fashionable"

Another word that’s entered common usage, Fashionable was first uttered in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Ulysses says the now well-known word in Act III, Scene III, giving the world the perfect description of all things trendy in the process. 

Lit Shakespeare Merchant Of VeniceLIFE Photo Collection

3. "All that glitters is not gold"

Although the sentiment behind this phrase has been around since the 12th century, it was Shakespeare that gave us the most popular form of the expression. Another quotable line from the same passage reads “Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”

Titania and Bottom (Around 1790) by Henry FuseliTate Britain

4. "Manager"

Though perhaps not the most exciting word the Bard coined, Manager is one of the most practical. The word appears in Act V Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when King Theseus enquires “Where is our usual manager of mirth? What revels are in hand? Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”

Photograph for Othello (2013) (2013/2013) by Seamus RyanNational Theatre

5. "Jealousy is the green-eyed monster"

Today, we all know the dangers of ‘the green-eyed monster’ and that’s largely thanks to Shakespeare. The phrase appears in Othello when Iago warns the eponymous hero – somewhat insincerely – to guard against his own jealousy. The full line reads “It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

"I saw a smith stand with his hammer thus..." (Shakespeare, King John, Act 4, Scene 4) (January 1771) by Richard Houston|Edward Penny|Robert Sayer|William ShakespeareThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

6. "Cold-blooded"

The perfect phrase for describing everything from serial killers to zombies, cold-blooded first appears in Shakespeare’s King John. The phrase is spoken by Constance in Act III Scene I. According to the OED, Shakespeare’s definition of cold-blooded meant “without emotion or excitement, unimpassioned, callous or deliberately cruel”.

Lit Shakespeare HamletLIFE Photo Collection

7. "Hoist with his own petard"

This phrase has grown to become a proverb in its own right. It literally means that a bomb-maker is blown up, or hoist, by his own bomb, or petard. A petard was a small explosive device normally used for blowing gates and fortifications. The phrase is uttered in a crucial speech by Hamlet in which the prince has discovered a plot against his life. 

Lit Shakespeare HamletLIFE Photo Collection

Learn more about Shakespeare and his works here.

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