At a loss for words? Make them up . . .

I recently attended a performance of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by The Baron’s Men, a local acting troupe dedicated to performing Elizabethan plays using historical staging and costumes.  Like all other productions from this troupe, Twelfth Night was brilliantly cast and played.

In addition to relishing in the pageantry and authenticity of play, the word nerd in me was enlivened when the program listed “a sampling of unfamiliar vocabulary.”  Words such as “mellifluous,” “contumely,” and “perfidious” were defined. I enjoyed listening for those words in the dialogue.

Listening for those words also brought to mind the fact that Shakespeare invented more than 1,700 words that we use today. He changed nouns into verbs, changed verbs into adjectives, connected words never before used together, added prefixes and suffixes, and devised wholly original words. As one of my English professors once said “The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare.”

Below are some of my favorite Shakespeare-coined words.

Besmirch —to stain, sully, or to make dirty; soil.
“And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will.
His greatness weigh’d, his will is not his own;”
Act I Scene III

Equivocal — open to two or more interpretations, often intended to mislead; of uncertain significance.
“As thou art a knave, and no knave.
What an equivocal companion is this!”
All’s Well That Ends Well,
Act V Scene II

Madcap — behaving or acting impulsively or rashly; a person who acts madly or wildly
“That last is Biron, the merry madcap lord:
Not a word with him but a jest.
And every jest but a word.”
Love’s Labour’s Lost,
Act II Scene I

Impede —
to be an obstacle to; stand in the way of; hinder; obstruct.
“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,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown’d withal.”
, Act I Scene V

Lustrous — shedding light, as the sun or a fire; bright; brilliant; luminous
“Why it hath bay windows transparent as barricadoes,
and the clearstores toward the south north are as
lustrous as ebony; and yet complainest thou of
Twelfth Night
, Act IV Scene II

Pedant — one who pays undue attention to book learning and formal rules.
“But, wrangling pedant, this is
The patroness of heavenly harmony:
Then give me leave to have prerogative;
And when in music we have spent an hour,
Your lecture shall have leisure for as much.”
The Taming of the Shrew
, Act III Scene I

It seems that even Shakespeare experienced writer’s block, but when he got stuck trying to think of just the right words, he created his own. That we all could have such license.

Comments are closed.