50 Common Words Invented by Shakespeare We Still Use Today

50 Common Words Invented by Shakespeare We Still Use Today

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Did you know there are 1,700+ words invented by Shakespeare used in his plays and poems?

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust says he did this “often by combining words, changing nouns into verbs, adding prefixes or suffixes, and so on.”

Perhaps even more interesting is although these words and phrases were invented in the 16th century, many of them are still in use today! 

Keep reading as we explore 50 of our favorite phrases and words invented by Shakespeare and share a bit of the story behind them where we can. 

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Words Invented by Shakespeare (with Some Origins) 

Considered the greatest playwright in English history, William Shakespeare was a prolific writer and left an incredible mark on literature and western culture.  Here are 25 words he is credited with inventing.

  1. Addiction—Exemplified in Othello, the word “addiction” is used to describe the state of being dedicated or devoted to a thing, unlike the modern usage of the word relating to bad habits like smoking
  2. Assassination—Found in Macbeth, the word “assassination” holds its same meaning by being a timed poisoning or utter destruction of something
  3. Bedroom—This word still holds the same meaning as when it was added to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  4. Champion
  5. Cold-Blooded—When first used, this word was used metaphorically whereas now it’s used as a reference to serial killers and vampires
  6. Critic—Found in Love’s Labour Lost to mean someone who judges merit
  7. Dwindle
  8. Elbow
  9. Fashionable—Cited in Troilus and Cressida, this 11-letter word has stood the test of time in various industries today
  10. Generous
  11. Gloomy
  12. Hint
  13. Inaudible—Shakespeare added the negation of “in” before a word where it had never been before
  14. Lackluster
  15. Lonely
  16. Moonbeam
  17. Multitudinous—There are two meanings that Shakespeare derived from this word. One describes a body of water and the other is related to common people
  18. Obscene—Meaning “repulsive or disgusting,” this term was first found in Love’s Labour Lost
  19. Puking
  20. Perusal
  21. Pious
  22. Radiance
  23. Reliance
  24. Submerge
  25. Swagger—This was way before Justin Bieber! Shakespeare meant “swagger” to mean “strutting with a defiant air” 

25 Common Phrases Shakespeare Invented

Here are a few phrases that first came William Shakespeare. See how many you recognize and use! 

  1. All’s well that ends well
  2. Break the ice
  3. Eaten out of house and home
  4. Fair play
  5. Good riddance
  6. Heart of gold
  7. In a pickle
  8. Laughing stock
  9. Love is blind
  10. Wild-goose chase
  11. Vanish into thin air
  12. Naked truth 
  13. A piece of work 
  14. Fight fire with fire
  15. What’s done is done 
  16. Wear your heart on your sleeve
  17. Seen better days 
  18. Set your teeth on edge 
  19. Too much of a good thing 
  20. The world is my oyster
  21. A sorry sight 
  22. Green-eyed monster
  23. Heart of hearts
  24. Dead as a doornail 
  25. Bated breath 

Some of these phrases may have existed in speech before Shakespeare documented them in his work. However, his usage caused them to enter popular culture and influence our word choices, even today. 

Shakespeare’s Invented Words Showcases the Flexibility of the English Language

What’s so interesting about these terms being used today is that it demonstrates just how enduring our language is. Can you believe these 16th-century words and phrases still (basically) mean the same thing? It also shows us how flexible English can be. If we need a word, we can make one.

For example, as of February 2023, there were already 313 new entries and 130 new definitions added to the dictionary in 2023 such as:

  • Digital nomad
  • Rage farming
  • Folx
  • Petfluencer

Language is how we express our human experience, and the words and phrases we use will endure or flex based on what we need in any given moment. 

While many of the words invented by Shakespeare are more heavily used in England and the United Kingdom, English speakers around the world will be familiar with some, if not most, of our curated list! 

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