Common and Uncommon Words Coined by Shakespeare

POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET: Words, words, words.
HAMLET Act 2, scene 2, 191-192

It’s always impossible to know who first coined a word-and not much easier to know who first wrote it down. But here’s a partial list of the words for which Shakespeare is the first authority the Oxford English Dictionary could find. Some words predate the first citation in the OED, even in its second edition. In a few cases, Shakespeare was the first to have used the word in at least one of its modern senses; these words are marked with an asterisk (*). All verbs are in the infinitive form-that is, the “to” form (“to belly,” “to overstink,” etc.). Where there might otherwise be confusion over the part of speech, I have spelled it out.

  • ungrown
  • unhelpful
  • unhidden
  • unlicensed
  • unmitigated
  • unmusical
  • unpolluted
  • unpremeditated
  • unpublished (Shakespeare meant “undisclosed”)
  • unquestionable (Shakespeare meant “impatient”)
  • unquestioned
  • unreal
  • unrivaled
  • unscarred
  • unscratched
  • unsolicited
  • unsullied
  • unswayed (Shakespeare meant “unused” and “ungoverned”)
  • untutored
  • unvarnished
  • * unwillingness (in the sense “reluctance”)
  • upstairs
  • useful
  • useless
  • valueless
  • varied (as an adjective)
  • varletry
  • vasty
  • vulnerable
  • watchdog
  • water drop
  • water fly
  • well-behaved
  • well-bred
  • well-educated
  • well-read
  • wittolly (“contentedly a cuckold”)
  • worn out (Shakespeare meant “dearly departed”)
  • wry-necked (“crook-necked”)
  • yelping (as an adjective)
  • zany (a clown’s sidekick or a mocking mimic)

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