Monday, October 08, 2007

How Much Did Shakespeare Embiggen the English Vocabulary?


Shakespeare is sometimes said to have coined more new English words than anyone else, with the possible exception of James Joyce. This is not true. The illusion of his unique inventiveness in this regard was created by the tendency of the Oxford English Dictionary to cite examples from him as the first usage of a word. That was because of his ready availability when the dictionary was created at the end of the Victorian era. Now that there are large digitized databases of sixteenth-century books, it is easy to find prior occurrences for many supposed Shakespearean coinage.

No comments: