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11 Odd Words Shakespeare Invented That Never Caught On
written by Sam Greenspan

This list is the Shakespearean equivalency of Gretchen Wieners trying to make "fetch" happen.

Shakespeare is routinely credited with contributing "at least 1,700 words" to the English language, including words as seemingly common as bedroom, alligator, eyeball, lonely and kissing. I was initially going to make list out of those, but in researching them, I found out it's really hard to confirm that Shakespeare actually was the first to use them. So instead, I decided to tackle a much less popular Shakespeare language topic: The words he created that sputtered and died. That was much easier to fact check; there aren't a ton of disputing accounts on the first time the word "bubukles" appeared in print.

So here are 11 words coined by Shakespeare that failed to make any sort of splash on the future of the English language.

  1. I was going to use a photo of a bikini car wash here, but I figured this list's topic was sexy enough already.
    dispunge (Antony and Cleopatra) - This is a verb for when it's pouring rain, as if a giant sponge is being squeezed on you. Taking it further, in the only context the word has ever been used in history, Shakespeare uses it metaphorically ("the poisonous damp of night dispunge upon me") -- it never stood a chance.

  2. co-mart (Hamlet) - This word described joint bargains -- like buying a Chromecast and getting two months of Hulu Plus free to take it as anachronistically far from Shakespeare's era as possible. This word did such a poor job catching on it's been removed from most modern versions of Hamlet and replaced by "covenant" -- apparently people just assume it was a typo. I also checked and it's not the inspiration for Kmart, although they are a great place to find something rotten.

  3. congreeted (Henry V) - This is a pretty useful word; a verb meaning to exchange hellos and other small-talk pleasantries. And then, I assume, everyone kind of standing there awkwardly.

  4. smilets (King Lear) - I like this word a lot; it describes one of those attempted half-smiles you give when you aren't really happy but get the social cue to smile. Of all the words on this list, smilets is really the top one that could've had a chance; so like everything else that didn't survive King Lear, let's blame his daughters.


  5. People in Hamlet even friended skulls.
    friended (Hamlet) - Yes, Facebook has completely co-opted this word, but not in the way Shakespeare used it in Hamlet. There, the context means friendship ("to express his love and friending to you") -- not adding a friend to your tally. He *does* use "friended" in the modern way in Measure for Measure and Cymbeline, but those plays are like Friendster and Classmates.com to Hamlet's Facebook.

  6. immoment (Antony and Cleopatra) - This is a fancy, poetic Shakespeare adjective for "unmomentous," which also appears to not be a word. Apparently he was really filling a void with this one.

  7. bubukles (Henry V) - This describes blotches on the face, or, most likely, adult acne. It feels more descriptive than "pimples," but also more Yiddish-y.


  8. A group of crows is called a "murder."
    rooky (Macbeth) - Apparently there's some high level linguist battle over what Shakespeare means by "rooky." Some think it's just describing a tree that a lot of a type of crows called rooks have landed on. I couldn't find what the others think it describes, and I can't really meet them halfway on anything else; the line from Macbeth is "Light thickens; and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood." As someone once said and then the Internet attributed to Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  9. palmy (Hamlet) - Palmy is an adjective based off the concept of victory being something you hold in your palm. So palmy means "victorious and flourishing" -- not "home to lots of palm trees" which is how I'm pretty sure it's used in all the real estate listings for $2 million dilapidated shacks here in L.A.

  10. infamonize (Love's Labor's Lost) - This word describes making someone go from famous to not famous, which is sort of a lost concept today thanks to an unholy trinity of nostalgia, reality TV and social media. Once you're famous, you stay famous.

  11. mirable (Troilus and Cressida) - This isn't pronounced like miracle with a "b"; it's ostensibly pronounced "myre-uh-bul." It's a short form version of "admirable," making it an unlikely cousin to the popular Internet-coined term "'Murica."

Helpful websites: Theatre History, Perseus Digital Library


This post was originally published on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Books.

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