How the chronology of Shakespeare's plays changes what words he coined | 22 Words

How the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays changes what words he coined

By Abraham Piper

You’ve probably seen lists of all the words and phrases that Shakespeare is believed to have invented. In a post about updates to the OED, linguist David Crystal discusses how this list would be affected if we reordered Shakespeare’s work accurately:

[T]he dates of Shakespeare’s plays used by the original lexicographers are now hugely out of date. Nobody these days would place Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1588, as the OED does; most people would opt for 1593-5. Similarly, Titus Andronicus is given as 1588 (probably 1590-91) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as 1590 (probably 1594-5).

OK. So what?

The day they revise these dates, the whole of the ‘Shakespeare invented words’ industry will have to be reviewed, as in many entries the Shakespearean usage will leapfrog over another citation into second place.

For example…

We now know that several of the first recorded usages assigned to Shakespeare have been antedated. Not all are in the OED files yet. Lonely isn’t, for example. The OED still gives Coriolanus 1607 as a first use, but…Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke, talks about ‘lonely ghosts’ in her Tragedie of Antonie, and that is 1592.

Of course, most of you are still sitting there saying, So what?

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