word craft


Words, words, words

Polo­nius: What do you read my lord? 

Ham­let: Words, words, words. 

The Eng­lish language—of all the world’s languages—has the largest vocab­u­lary. It does so because it has absorbed many lan­guages from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and tongues. More­over, it is suf­fi­cient­ly flex­i­ble and expan­sive (and wide­spread) so as to con­tin­ue to add new words. Each year The Oxford Unabridged Dic­tio­nary adds new words that have gained gen­er­al currency. 

Now, we gen­er­al­ly know William Shake­speare (1564–1616) as the pre­em­i­nent writer of the Eng­lish lan­guage. If you went to a tra­di­tion­al high school you prob­a­bly read (labo­ri­ous­ly) Romeo and Juli­et, Julius Cae­sar, or Mac­beth.   

(For that rea­son, when­ev­er my chil­dren were read­ing these plays in school, I always secured a film edi­tion of the play, on the the­o­ry that as mod­ern kids they could make more sense of the lan­guage when they could see the words attached to an action. Indeed our youngest grew so fond of Leonar­do DiCaprio’s very mod­ern gang­ster (but full text) ver­sion of Romeo + Juli­et that he watched it over and over again.) 

peach-colored rose abhishek gaurav
pho­to: Abhishek Gau­rav, Pexels

But what we some­times for­get is that Shake­speare was an extra­or­di­nary inven­tor of new words, words that entered the main­stream of our vocab­u­lary so that we use them today as a mat­ter of course. Here are just a few of them. 

Green-Eyed (to describe jealousy)

If you go online you can track many, many, more. 

He also cre­at­ed phras­es that are equal­ly vital to the language: 

As good luck would have it
Break the ice
Cold comfort
Come what may
Dev­il incarnate
Eat­en me out of house and home
Fair play
A laugh­ing stock
In a pickle 

And, again, many, many, more. 

What I find remark­able about this is that in Shakespeare’s time, read­ing was not a uni­ver­sal skill. Far from it. So when these words and phras­es were first set forth in the Globe The­atre, they were heard not read.  

We some­times take lan­guage as a giv­en. As speak­ers, as writ­ers, we all search for the right word to express our­selves. I am con­stant­ly using a the­saurus. What we some­times fail to rec­og­nize is that a reader—a good reader—develops a vocab­u­lary that enables them to effec­tive­ly express and com­mu­ni­cate their ideas, feel­ings, and beliefs. When we have the words, we can share our thoughts and feelings. 

“A rose by any oth­er name would smell as sweet,” says Juli­et, but when you say “rose,” you have shared your thought. 

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