7 ways you talk Shakespeare and don’t even know it

Published on: 14 March 2016 Author: Sophie Offord

It's over 400 years since Shakespeare died, and everyone agrees that the writer is still a Pretty Big Deal. But why should you care?

Many of us struggle with the 16/17th-century playwright and poet. After all, language was a bit different back then - and it can sometimes be hard to understand what Shakespeare was trying to say.

But if you've had it up to here with the Bard, keep reading.

Here are seven words Shakespeare made up or popularised - and they're all relevant to your life today:

1 What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here?


It's not just a strut, anymore. 'Swag' and 'swagger' have come to mean an attitude, a confidence; feeling fierce and facing the world (often while wearing pricey clothing).  

In fact, this means that Shakespeare is sort of responsible for the following shows of bravado: 

  • Kanye West and Jay-Z: 'I invented swag... Proof / I guess I got my swagger back, truth'
  • Cher Lloyd: 'Get on the floor, my swagger's in check'
  • and even Justin Bieber: 'This right here is my pretty boy swag'.

 Erm - nice one, Shakespeare?

2. Nay, on thou'll mouth, I'll rant as well as thou


Did you know that the first recorded use of a good old rant was from Shakespeare?

Today, the internet is full of the stuff. The word actually comes from the Dutch 'randten', meaning 'to talk foolishly' - something the online ranters should bear in mind.

In fact, 'rantipole' was a nice little insult in Shakespeare's time for someone exceedingly rude. Be gone, rantipoles!

3. With all my heart, I'll gossip at this feast


Who doesn't like the odd water-cooler moment, when you lay down the latest about Pete from Accounts?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'gossip' was originally more specific: 'a woman's female friends invited to be present at a birth'. (To us, that's taking friendship a tad too far…)

Many think Shakespeare was the first to use 'gossip' as a verb. The rest is history.

4. All the better; we shall be the more marketable


These days, everyone seems to have a 'brand' and a selfie stick. We're all on the quest to be super-marketable.

Shakespeare was probably the first to add the suffix '-able' to 'market' - but perhaps not (there's some debate). Either way, he certainly popularised the word.

Today, a market isn't just the local place to trade livestock. The whole planet is a market - and selling your goods can simply mean getting a new follower on Instagram.

5. Mother Jourdain, be you prostrate and grovel on the earth


This is where we get really, really humble and say sorry lots.

'Grovel' was adapted from 'grovelling', which in turn came from the Old Norse 'grufe'.

To 'grufe' was to lie face downwards - so 'grovel' suggested getting down on the floor and crawling before the person you wanted to win round.

'Grovel' today still involves some major sucking up to someone - but the crawling bit is optional. 

6. Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence!


Sometimes it's difficult to describe the weird and fantastical. So what you need to do is find another word - and say, 'Well, it's definitely not like that'.

Shakespeare wanted to show something so ghostly and dreamlike, he was at a loss for words. Hence, he slapped the word 'un' before 'real' to stress that this thing in Macbeth couldn't possibly be of this world.

Since around the mid-1960s, 'unreal' has also been known as slang for 'crazily good' - along the same lines as 'woah', 'omg' and 'mind blown'.

7. Not friended by his wish to your high person, his will is most malignant


When Shakespeare wrote 'Disorder, that hath spoil'd us, friend us now!', it's doubtful his character was venting about an ignored friend request on Facebook.

'Friending', in this sense, has only been around since 2005.

But there have been sporadic uses of 'friend' as a verb over hundreds of years.

In the late 16th century, Shakespeare was certainly paving the way for 'friended' and 'friending' people. However, back then, you presumably had about five actual buddies, rather than 400 virtual ones.

The ones that didn't make it

It's true that some of Shakespeare's words didn't catch on as much.

We're yet to see the next round of rock stars and writers use words such as:

  • smilet (an attempt at a smile when you're not really happy)
  • swoltery (hot and sticky)
  • and kickie-wickie (an 'affectionate' term for a wife).

None of this stops Shakespeare from being one of the most celebrated writers of all time: a man unafraid to take risks and stand out from the crowd.

So bear that in mind next time you swagger, gossip or friend someone on social media. 

Topics: Funny, Classics, Features

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