If you peruse the internet, you will be excused for believing that Shakespeare invented a stunningly large number of distinct words that remain part of our language today – words like anchovy, dawn, engagement and hint.
The reality is, though, is quite disappointing. The overwhelming majority of so-called still-popular words invented by Shakespeare had actually been in use prior to their appearing in the bard’s works, usually by decades. The list of still-common words invented by Shakespeare is, frankly, very small.
The OED assigns to words a value which describes how frequently they are used. The scale runs from 1 to 8, in which 8 represents words that are most frequently in use in modern English – examples include the, of, as and with.
The number 1 is assigned to the rarest of words, those that you may never actually run across in modern English writing. Many obsolete words are assigned the number 1.
A large percentage of Shakespeare’s words are assigned a frequency value of 2; these are words that have been occasionally used by later writers who are simply echoing Shakespeare in their use. Examples of Shakespeare’s words assigned a 2 include barky, defunctive and mockable. Numerous other words are not even assigned a number, but are simply identified as “rare” or “obsolete”.
None of Shakespeare’s invented words have been assigned a Frenquency Band of 7 or 8. But there are a pair of 6’s, fifteen 5’s, and thirty-eight 4’s. We include the 4’s here, as there are some words here that readers may consider common, even as there are others that are only arguably so. Does anyone think manus and militarist are as common laughable and choppy?
Several of these words were invented by Shakespeare, but have a different meaning today from the one given them by Shakespeare. These are marked with an asterisk *:
|1. alligator (noun 2, the reptile)||bottled|
|5. fixture *||fathomless|
|6. immediacy||fitful *|
|7. impress (verb 1, to enlist in the military)||gnarled|
|12. subcontract *||lune (noun 2)|
|13. sympathize (share credit)||manus|
|unpay (verb 2)|