Jump to content
Linguaholic

Shakespeare's influence on the English vocabulary


thekernel
 Share

Recommended Posts

Is it possible in today's world for a single writer to have the same influence over a language as Shakespeare? As we all know, he is responsible for the conjuring of many words and phrases, oftentimes creating new words out of prefixes and suffixes not before used in that sense. Words and terms such as "majestic", "fashionable", "cold-blooded" and "discontent" have all been traced back to his writings.

Today, much of the modern changes to our lexicon can be attributed to the rise of the internet. "[To] Google" is now a dictionary-certified verb. Beyond that, is there any reason to believe that a single person could impact a change in our vocabulary to the extent of Shakespeare?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Improve your knowledge of any language online

You should never say never, but it doesn't seem likely. By today's world, do you mean your lifetime, or the 21st century, or something else? I think when eugenics and the consumption/insertion of nanomachines becomes commonplace, there will undoubtedly be multiple prolific writers on the same level as Shakespeare, or greater. That might happen in half a century, or later. But I don't think there's going to be a dude who can be as prolific and as influential as Shakespeare in the next 10-15 years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doubtful.

The issue here isn't that he was even that prolific (37 plays, 154 sonnets), it is that he was prolific, consistently good, and popular at the right time to influence a whole culture that was on the ascendance. The beginning of England as we know it, essentially, and the English language and literature as its own thing.

But more than that, there is simply no way that our post-moveable type, post-printing press, post-universal literacy could have a single person produce such a huge *percentage* of the culture.

For example, Agatha Christie is credited as being the best selling 20th Century author, but if you look at her best selling book, And Then There Were None, it shares its 1940 publication year with For Whom the Bell Tolls, Native Son, The Power and the Glory, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

And that isn't including hundreds of lesser known (or less familiar to me) novels, plus plays, poems, and short fiction. Plus movies and popular music, and now we have the internet on top of that.

There is no way to gain the sort of share that would allow that big of an influence nowadays.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it would be extremely doubtful for all the reasons previously stated on this thread.  We are no longer living in circumstances that would foster that kind of influence on language from one individual. 

These days the influence comes more so from technology and the modes of communication that it enables.  Thus we see how emoticons and texting shorthand have been influential upon our language; not necessarily in a positive way.  The new terminology grew out of a collective need to communicate within the constraints of texting, that messages have to be short. 

We do see from time to time that a celebrity or a public figure's manner of speaking might have some influence, but it tends to be short-lived or it may be just a phrase or two that everyone recognizes.  I think this happens with the spoken word more so than writing. 

But these days, I don't think writers have that kind of influence any longer partly because, sadly, it's only a small percentage of people who read books -- aside from celebrity books and other topical books -- books of substance that will endure as classics. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Shakespeare lived in a time when world was beginning to reinvent itself, and you could argue that he was even partially responsible for that. These days people seem to think they know everything, that they've already discovered everything there is to be discovered. The only words that get added to the dictionary are ones that have no right existing (e.g. irregardless). I think someone like Shakespeare only comes along once every few centuries, and I would argue that the last person to even start to come close to his greatness was James Joyce.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The only words that get added to the dictionary are ones that have no right existing (e.g. irregardless).

Much as I dislike that word, Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive.

Which is to say that they describe word usage as it occurs in the language, they don't actually dictate what words are 'correct'.

If everyone is using a word a certain way, that word becomes part of the language by definition and should quite rightly be added to the repository of word information.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it would be extremely doubtful for all the reasons previously stated on this thread.  We are no longer living in circumstances that would foster that kind of influence on language from one individual. 

These days the influence comes more so from technology and the modes of communication that it enables.  Thus we see how emoticons and texting shorthand have been influential upon our language; not necessarily in a positive way.  The new terminology grew out of a collective need to communicate within the constraints of texting, that messages have to be short. 

We do see from time to time that a celebrity or a public figure's manner of speaking might have some influence, but it tends to be short-lived or it may be just a phrase or two that everyone recognizes.  I think this happens with the spoken word more so than writing. 

But these days, I don't think writers have that kind of influence any longer partly because, sadly, it's only a small percentage of people who read books -- aside from celebrity books and other topical books -- books of substance that will endure as classics.

I have to agree with Laura M on this one. Information Technology is greatly influencing the manner in which persons communicate with each other. Persons have adopted the short hand way of typing and writing, which is influenced by SMS texting and instant messaging. Persons don't have any time to write in complete sentences anymore. Additionally, the few books which are being read are books written by celebrities and "How-to" (personal development/self help) books. People don't read as much as they use to in previous times; and sadly, this is affecting how we communicate in English, at times in a negative way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Shakespeare lived in a time when world was beginning to reinvent itself, and you could argue that he was even partially responsible for that. These days people seem to think they know everything, that they've already discovered everything there is to be discovered. The only words that get added to the dictionary are ones that have no right existing (e.g. irregardless). I think someone like Shakespeare only comes along once every few centuries, and I would argue that the last person to even start to come close to his greatness was James Joyce.

Absolutely correct! When you get to digging, you find the great majority of great quotes and idioms in the English language come directly from either Shakespeare or the King James Bible or, when traced back, are originally derived from one of the two. Perhaps an even more interesting question would be if any other language is so heavily influenced by only two sources. Alas, I am merely asking the question. I don't know the answer to that, but it would be very interesting to know.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

I think that the guy had a bit too much influence on the language. I loved his plays and the stories he created, but i think that we embraced way too much of him and i could not relate to his writing style. I remember half of my english classes in school revolved around this dude and that has tainted me forever

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

You have to remember that Shakespeare was impacting all levels of society, and was a very prolific author.  It is possible for this to happen in today's e-society, and all that it would take is someone popular enough wanting to do it.  Imagine all the possible adjectives you could create, or all the new works (like e-society).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...