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English 9

Neologisms: Words made up by Shakespeare

1) accused (in the noun form): person charged with an offense

The word was already a verb and an adjective when Shakespeare got hold of it and
made it into a noun form in the play, Richard II:

“Face to face/And frowning brow to brow ourselves will hear/The accused and the
accuser freely speak” (I.i.15-17).

The word is originally from the Latin causa, meaning “cause or lawsuit.” Today
accused commonly refers to the defendant in a lawsuit.

2) blushing (as an adjective): ruddy; having the face redden with modesty or shame

The word was from a Germanic verb meaning to “burn brightly or to glow,” when
Shakespeare turned it into an adjective in Richard II, when the face of the angry
king is compared to “the blushing discontented sun” (III.iii.63). Shakespeare also
uses the word in his two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and
his play Henry VIII.

3) cater (verb): to provide food; to supply what is needed or desired

The word, cater, comes from a Middle English noun, meaning “buyer of provisions.”
An old servant in the play As You Like It tells Orlando, the play’s hero, “Take
that and He that doth the ravens feed,/Yea, providently caters for the sparrow,/Be
comfort to my age!” With these words, the old man offers all his money to Orlando.

4) critic (noun): one who passes judgment or expresses a reasoned opinion;

In another of Shakespeare’s plays, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Berowne, a character who
made fun of others for falling prey to love, bemoans, “I . . .have been love’s
whip,/A critic, nay, a night-watch constable” (III.i.174, 176).

It is understandable how Shakespeare, someone who was in the public eye and
criticized for his works, would come up with the word, critic.

5) denote (verb): to define or designate; to indicate

Romeo and Juliet, the play we are reading this year, is the play to first use this
word as a verb in English. The word is from the Latin, “to note or mark out,” and
Friar Lawrence uses it to admonish Romeo for contemplating suicide. The Friar
states, [T]hy wild acts denote/The unreasonable fury of a beast” (III.iii.110-11).

6) frugal (as an adjective): sparing; thrifty or economical; careful with money

In the comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mistress Page is surprised when she
receives a love letter from someone she thinks would have been unimpressed with
the reserved manner she showed when he was in her presence. She says, “Why, he
hath not been thrice in my company!”, and she adds, “I was then frugal of my
mirth” (II.1.26-28).

The adjective is based on the Latin frugalis, meaning “frugal or virtuous,” and is
from the frux, meaning “fruit” or “value.”
7) gnarled (adjective): twisted or knotty; deformed

The word appears in the play Measure for Measure, when the heroine Isabella pleads
on behalf of her brother to the character Angelo and addresses heaven, from which
the power of lightning “with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt/Splits the unwedgeable
and gnarled oak” (II.ii.115-116).

The adjective remained unpopular until the nineteenth century when English and
American writers began using it.

8) impede (verb): to block or hinder; to slow

Shakespeare uses this verb only once, in the play Macbeth, when Lady Macbeth plots
to help her husband remove the obstacles that hinder him from being king. She
says, “All that impedes thee [Macbeth] from the golden round [the crown, the
kingship]” (I.v.28). Though Shakespeare only used the verb in Macbeth, he uses the
noun form, impediment, meaning “obstacle,” more than twenty times in his works.

The verb is from the Latin impedire, which means “to shackle the foot.” The root
ped- or pes means “foot” and can be found in such words as pedestrian, pedal and

9) lackluster (adjective): wanting in brightness; dull; mediocre

In the play, As You Like It, Jacques describes the character of the fool, who
removes a small sundial from his pocket. Jacques says the fool looks on the
sundial “with lack-lustre eye/Says very wisely, ‘It is ten a’clock” (II.vii.21-

Shakespeare often put the word, lack, in front of other words and came up with
compound ones, such as lack-beard, lack-brain, and lack-love. The habit probably
came from the French, who often attached sans (“without”) to nouns.

Luster, on the other hand, is from the Latin verb, lustrare, “to brighten.”

10) luggage (as a noun): something lugged; baggage belonging to a traveler

In 1 Henry IV, Prince Hal kills another main character, Hotspur, in battle, but
Hal’s advisor Falstaff finds the body and wants to claim it for a reward. Hal
tells Falstaff, “Come bring your luggage nobly on your back” (V.iv.156).

The verb lug comes from the Middle English luggen , “to pull or drag by the hair
or ear.” Here Shakespeare uses the word in its most basic sense, “something that
is lugged.” Nowadays, obviously the most common usage is “baggage belonging to a

11) majestic (adjective): having or exhibiting dignity and grandeur

Shakespeare debuts this word in the historical tragedy, Julius Caesar, when he has
Cassius remark that he is amazed that someone as weak as Caesar should “So get the
start of the majestic world” (I.ii.130). In 1 Henry IV, Shakespeare also gets
credits for using the word as an adverb, majestically.

12) monumental (adjective): of great size or significance; outstanding
Shakespeare uses monument, the noun form of this word, frequently, but the
adjectival form appears only three times in Shakespeare’s works. The first time is
in Shakespeare’s long poem, Troilus and Cressida, where the Bard states that to
give up is “to hang/Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail [armor]/In monumental
mock’ry” (III.iii.151-53).

Either the noun or adjectival form come from the Latin monere, “to remind.”

13) negotiate: to confer for the purpose of reaching a settlement

In the comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, the seemingly betrayed lover Claudio says
that from now on “all hearts in love use their own tongues./Let every eye
negotiate for itself” (II.ii.177-78).

The word comes from the Latin negotiari, which means “to carry on business,” but
the Latin can be broken down even more. Neg- as a prefix means “not,” and the root
otium means “leisure” or “ease.”

14) numb (as a verb): to deaden or make insensible

Something to think about the next time the dentist gives you Novocain:
Shakespeare’s is the first use of the word as a transitive verb, that is, a verb
that has a direct object. In the long poem, Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare uses the
word to describe the fear Venus has when she thinks her lover Adonis is killed.
She feels that “cold-pale weakness numbs each feeling part” (892).

The word as an adjective dates back to the fourteenth century.

15) obscene (adjective): repulsive or disgusting; offensive to one’s sense of

A character who has seen another consorting with a woman comments in the comedy
Love’s Labour’s Lost on how he came to “encounter that obscene and most
prepost’rous event” (I.i.241-242).

The word derives from the Latin obscenus, which means “repulsive or indecent.” The
word is possibly a mixture of the prefix ob-, meaning “toward,” and caenum,

16) perusal (noun): survey or close examination; act of reading through or over

In the tragedy Hamlet, Ophelia describes to her father how Hamlet entered her
rooms and fell to “such perusal of my face/As ‘a would draw it” (II.i.87-88).

Perusal is from the verb peruse, which may be a combination of the Latin prefix,
per-, “through” or “thoroughly,” and the Middle English usen, “to use.”

17) puke (verb): to vomit

Shakespeare gets credit for the first appearance of this word in the comedy As You
Like It, when the character of Jacques describes the stages of a man’s life, the
first one being when he is an infant, “Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”

The word’s origin is unclear. It may be from the Old English spiwan, “to spew or

18) rant (verb): to speak in bombastic or extravagant language; to talk

At the end of Hamlet, Hamlet boasts that he can mourn for his dead love Ophelia as
well as her brother Laertes, saying, “I’ll rant as well as though” (V.i.283-84).

The word rant comes from the Dutch ranten, meaning “to rave” and appears only once
in Shakespeare’s works.

19) sanctimonious (adjective): hypocritically pious or religious; of pretended or
exaggerated piety

Shakespeare’s uses the word in the comedy Measure for Measure in a discourse about
politics in Vienna. One character, Lucio, tells two gentlemen, “Though conclud’st
like the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but
scrap’d one out of the table” (I.ii.7-9).

Sanctimonious comes from the Latin sincere, “to consecrate or make holy.” Words
like sanctity and sanctuary also share the root.

20) tranquil (as an adjective): without agitation or disturbance; serene

The noun tranquility was first recorded in Chaucer’s works and appears once in
Shakespeare, but Shakespeare gets credit for being the first one to use the word
in its adjectival form. He does so in the tragedy Othello, when the eponymous main
character is told his wife has been unfaithful. Othello cries, “Farewell the
tranquil mind! farewell content! (III.iii.348).

The word comes from the Latin prefix trans-, which means “beyond,” and the root
quies which means “rest” or “calm.” (Yes, the root can also be found in the
English word quiet.)


McQuain, Jeffrey and Stanley Malless. Coined by Shakespeare. Merriam Webster
Incorporated: Springfield, 1998.