Words, Words, Words: Five Everyday Expressions Invented by William Shakespeare

By Abigail Hummel

Sophomore, Biology major

Listen up, Gators: Without the great William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have our school mascot.

That’s right, folks.  William Shakespeare invented the word “alligator.”  Before Romeo and Juliet, these fearsome reptiles were referred to by their Spanish name, “aligartos.”  Without old Will, we might have been cheering “Come on Gartos; get up and go!” every Saturday in the Swamp.

Shakespearean Words (www.buzzfeed.com)

Shakespeare contributed over 1,700 common words to the English language, not to mention countless idiomatic expressions.  He even invented several popular names.  (Jessica, Miranda, and Olivia — I’m looking at you!)

For all of his confusing Early Modern English and troublesome iambic pentameter, the Bard had a huge impact on how we use language to this very day.  Take a look at these words and phrases coined by Shakespeare, and see how many of them you use in everyday conversation.

1. Addiction

What it means now: The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice.

What it meant then: Strong inclination.

Why you should care: You may not be able to blame your Starbucks fixation on Shakespeare, but at least he gave us the word to describe it.  “Addiction” pops up in Othello, where the hero’s herald describes a party where “every man put himself into triumph: some to dance, some to make bonfires, each man to what sport and revels his addiction leads him.”  Doesn’t seem so different from a modern college get-together, does it?

2. Break the ice

What it means now: To initiate social interactions.

What it meant then: To forge a path for others to follow.

Why you should care: As every incoming freshman knows, breaking the ice is a staple of orientation games, dorm meetings, and small discussion classes everywhere.  In The Taming of the Shrew, trusty servant Tranio urges nice-guy Hortensio to “break the ice” and woo the foul-tempered Kate so that Tranio’s master can hook up with her younger sister, Bianca.  Wingmen were even around in 16th-century Italy!

3. The green-eyed monster

What it means now: A symbol of jealousy.

What it meant then: Same thing!

Why you should care: Jealousy was certainly not a new phenomenon in Shakespeare’s time, but the archetypal image of being green with envy is attributed to the Bard.  In Othello, the villainous Iago warns his master, “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”  Think about that the next time your best friend manages to plan a schedule with no class on Fridays.

4. Good riddance

What it means now: An expression of pleasure on being rid of some annoyance.

What it meant then: Ditto.

Why you should care: We all know the somewhat hostile satisfaction of a good riddance: pressing the “print” button on your ten-page paper that’s due tomorrow, ripping up class notes after taking your last final, deleting the numbers of ex-friends from your phone.  In the case of Troilus and Cressida, Greek soldier Patroclus sarcastically remarks, “A good riddance” upon the exit of insolent slave Thersites.  It seems that even the ancient Greeks could be as cheeky and spiteful as we are today.

5. Mortifying

What it means now: Humiliating, embarrassing.

What it meant then: Putting to death.

Why you should care: The original definition of “mortifying” makes perfect sense considering the universal urge to cease existing whenever something embarrassing happens.  “Mortifying” first appears in The Merchant of Venice, when party animal Gratiano proclaims, “Let my liver rather heat with wine than my heart cool with mortifying groans.”  In other words, Gratiano would rather suffer cirrhosis than deny himself fun.  (Sound like any college kids you know?)

Although Shakespeare’s works may seem outdated, the truth is that they are incredibly relevant and relatable, even four centuries after he penned them.  Interested in learning more about Shakespeare’s immense impact?  Check out UF’s own Shakespeare in the Park, a performance group that aims to make Shakespeare’s works more accessible to the community at large.  Our Fall Showcase will be taking place on November 22nd at 7:00 PM and November 24th at 3:00 PM in the Plaza of the Americas.

 

2 thoughts on “Words, Words, Words: Five Everyday Expressions Invented by William Shakespeare

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