Happy Birthday Shakespeare, the multilingual wordsmith

William Shakespeare, long regarded as the greatest wordsmith of the English-language, celebrates his birthday (and strangely also his death day) today – April 23rd.

As well as being known for his extensive catalogue of plays – required high school reading in most English-speaking countries – he also coined a number of his owns words, many of which are still commonly used today.

This was partly supported by his knack for borrowing and adapting words from other major languages of the time, namely Latin and Germanic-based ones.

Below is a list of some that he borrowed from the mainland, which over time have become as English as Queen Catherine of Aragon herself.

Anchovy: from Henry IV Part I

“Item, Anchovies and sack after supper, 2s. 6d”

First recorded instance of the word “anchovy” in English comes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I, believed to have been written in the 1590s. The precise origin, however, remains unclear – Anchova was a common term for this particular fish in Portuguese, while anchu means “dried fish” in Basque.

Bandit: from Henry IV Part II

“A Roman sworder and banditto slave Murder’d sweet Tully”

Bandito, meaning outlaw, was already a common description in Italian for those that had been banned from something or been banished from somewhere. Other references of words with similar root, “ban,” come from Old French and Proto-Germanic.

To cow: from Macbeth

“Accursed be that tongue that tells me so, For it hath cow’d my better part of man!”

Meaning to intimidate, the origin is believed to come from the Old Norse language, spoken in Scandinavia between AD 800 and AD 1300. Their term kuga meant “to oppress,” and is believed to emanate from the idea that those who are easily oppressed are like cows being herded.

To puke: From As You Like It

“At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.”

One of Shakespeare’s most well-known speeches, often referred to as The Seven Ages of Man, spawned a term that has become synonymous with illness and binge drinking. The word, however, is said to derive from the German spucken and Latin spuere, both meaning to spit.

Multitudinous: From Macbeth

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red”

The meaning here is not immediately obvious to modern readers, so we have linked an explanation here. However, this is reportedly the first instance of the Latin stem multitudo in English. The word has not only survived to this day but taken on a number of different forms.

Reserve: From All’s Well That Ends Well

“all her deserving Is a reserved honesty, and that I have not heard examined.”

Emanating from the Old French reserver, where re means “back” and servare means “to keep” and “to protect”.

Hurried: From A Comedy of Errors

“A most outrageous fit of madness took him; That desperately he hurried through the streets”

This term could emanate from a number of sources including the English to harry; the Proto-Germanic hurza, meaning to move with haste; the High Middle German hurren, meaning to whirl or move fast; or the Old Swedish hurra, meaning to whirl around.

Though he may not have realised at the time, Shakespeare also coined expressions. The two below are still commonly used nowadays and include words that, in much the same vein as the words above, were borrowed from foreign languages, though it is not believed that Shakespeare invented them himself.

Hoist with one’s own petard: From Hamlet

“For “tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his own petar”; and “t shall go hard”

While the word petard, meaning a small, is rarely longer nowadays, the phrase, meaning to blow up something with your own bomb, has survived. The word petard comes from the French péter, meaning to, putting it politely, break wind.

Salad Days: From Anthony and Cleopatra

“My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood”

Shakespeare’s 1606 play was the first recorded instance of this popular expression, which has been repeated in speeches, films and music countless times. The word “salad,” however, stems from the Latin salata, short for herba salata, literally meaning “salted vegetables”.

Shakespeare was in a privileged position, though. A translation agency cannot be quite as flexible with words as he was. However, on his birthday, we would like to credit him for developing the English language into what it is today, and for bringing Europe’s languages closer together and helping to break down Europe’s language barriers.

Credit to the Etymology Dictionary, without whom this article would certainly not have been possible.