Words You Had No Idea Shakespeare Invented

William Shakespeare's bawdy comedies, dramas and tragedies gained him a kind of low fame in turn of the 17th century London. But the Bard of Avon's cultural cachet has improved greatly over the last three centuries. Now his works have been canonized as high literature, and not just for their riveting character-driven stories. The man was a poet as well as a storyteller, and when he didn't find a word that suited, he felt well within his capacity to invent one from whole cloth. As a result, he is credited with coining some of the most common words and turns-of-phrase still in use today.


Assassination was first dropped in Macbeth (Act 1, Scene VII). "The Scottish Play", deals in no small amount of murder and intrigue, so it's no surprise that Bill felt the need to invent a new word for murder most foul. Interestingly, "assassin" had been in use for several centuries, but had never been used to denote the act of killing before Macbeth. The word appears in Macbeth's famous soliloquy — "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly: If the assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch with his surcease success." Generations of actors have likely spoken these lines at auditions and on sizzle reels without ever realizing they were participating in the birth of a noun. 


In Act IV, Scene V of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Katherine, the titular shrew, reaches for a new word to describe the blinding effect of direct sunlight on her eyes. She tells her father that her "mistaking eyes" have been so "bedazzled by the sun" that everything looks a bit green. The word survives in our language to this day, and is often used figuratively to describe any object that appears gaudy in its brilliance. See: sequined coats. Over time, Shakespeare's very specific neologism has evolved to acquire new meanings, as well. Both Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster agree that bedazzle now means "to impress", though this is certainly not what the Bard intended.


The Elizabethan theatre where Shakespeare toiled for decades was rife with stories of jealousy and revenge. To avoid redundancy, the Bard had to invent new and fanciful ways to describe all the dark-hearted villains that populated his pages. The figurative usage of "cold-blooded" to describe a harsh or emotionless person instead of a literal reptile first appeared on the pages of King John (Act III, Scene 1). 

Shakespeare was, at his core, a poet. Many of his acts of linguistic invention follow in this mold. His flair for colorful description resulted in the creation of many metaphors that survive to this day. Many — like cold-blooded — have proven so apt that they've ascended into the realm of cliche.


Shakespeare is sometimes credited with inventing the choreographed fight scene for his work in famous plays like Hamlet and Macbeth, but it's one of his lesser-known works that we credit with adding this evocative noun to our vocabulary. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines scuffle as "A short confused fight, or struggle in close quarters." The word is still in common use today, and Shakespeare coined it on the lips of Philo from Antony and Cleopatra. Yet another example of the great scribe's power of creative nominalization. At the time of this play's writing, scuffle was only in use as a verb.