On April 23 we celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday with plenty of articles in the news listing words that appeared first in his works. I had some fun browsing around in www.shakespeare-online.com. Did he really dream up such images as swagger, lackluster, laughable and moonbeam? It makes me wonder, what did we call it before it was a moonbeam?
Of course, those words might have been in use around town, just written down first in his works, but they say he coined more than 2,000 of them, so it seems likely that he invented a few. And the phrases? The metaphors? These are his: to thine own self be true, flesh and blood, the sound and the fury, in my mind’s eye, to vanish into thin air.
When I despair that my lackluster paragraphs are laughable, I’ll try to remember that Shakespeare made up his own rules. When I hear a usage that grates, like “incent,” which came to us from 1980’s management speak, or “positivity,” which actually has a long pedigree, I’ll remind myself that people like me probably thought Mr. Shakespeare was butchering the language. 2000 new words. Wow.