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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Re: How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2402  Wednesday, 11 December 2002

[1]     From:   Peter D. Holland <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 09:55:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

[2]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 16:41:14 +0000
        Subj:   Many Words

[3]     From:   Nora Kreimer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 14:39:15 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

[4]     From:   Paul Sugarman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 15:43:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

[5]     From:   John Robinson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 17:14:40 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

[6]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 00:17:11 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

[7]     From:   John V. Knapp <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 01:52:30 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Response to Re: SHK 13.2389 How Main Words Did Shakespeare
Invent?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter D. Holland <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 09:55:13 -0500
Subject: 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

Testing out the claim for Shakespeare's inventiveness is tricky. There
was, of course, crucial work by Juergen Schaefer in his *Documentation
in the OED* (Oxford, 1980) but his work was undertaken before the
availability of computer corpora of sufficient size. Here's just one
example. OED gives as its first example for the word 'lonely', the
passage in *Coriolanus*: 'Like to a lonely dragon that his fen / Makes
feared and talked of more than seen' (4.1.31-2). My quick search of
Literature Online found 18 prior to the date of Coriolanus, 6 in poetry,
11 in prose and only 1 in drama  (in the Countess of Pembroke's Antonius
(1592). That's hardly surprising and it does nothing to argue against
the many listings of Shakespearean coinings but it suggests a need for a
deal more caution, now that we can search in ways previously impossible.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 16:41:14 +0000
Subject:        Many Words

Mr Hampton-Reeves and any others interested in Shakespeare's vocabulary
may wish to consult:

Hart, Alfred, "The Growth of Shakespeare's Vocabulary" Review of English
Studies, Vol 19 no. 75 (1943). (and his "Vocabularies of Shakespeare's
Plays" - RES also) where much of the data may be discovered.

(A fascinating  understated footnote to these advises that the proofs of
the articles have not  been read owing to the long delays in mail
between the UK and Australia!) No mention of the other difficulties
during that period are made!

Hart cites the OED compilers for the specific figure that Mr
Hampton-Reeves quotes.

Best wishes,
Graham Hall.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nora Kreimer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 14:39:15 -0300
Subject: 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

There is a PBS television series with a companion book The Story of
English, 1986 by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil,
published by Elizabeth Sifton Books, Viking. USA.
ISBN 0-670-80467-3 Library of Congress Catalogue Number 85-41070

The marvelous collection of 9 nine hours comes in 5 videos, containing
the history of the English language. I got it in Barnes and Noble in
NYC.

Episode (or chapter, depending on video or book form) 3 is "A Muse of
Fire", where the language of Shakespeare and some of his coinings are
reviewed. This interesting combination affords some samples of
reconstructed pronunciation. I don't think there is an exact reference
to the number of coinings.

Regards,
Nora Kreimer

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Sugarman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 15:43:34 -0500
Subject: 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

It seems that there is no way to know definitively how many words
Shakespeare invented since words that were first published in his works
may have been previously used. In the book "Coined by Shakespeare: Words
and Meanings First Penned by the Bard" by Jeffrey McQuain and Stanley
Malless, published by Merriam-Webster they state "Guesses have ranged
from a few hundred terms to more than 10,000, with the most likely
estimate approximately 1,500 words." which is in line with the BBC
statistic.

I'm unaware of 'but me no buts' but that is probably derived from the
Duke of York's speech to his nephew Bullingbroke in Richard II where he
says "Tut tut, grace me no grace, nor unckle me no unckle," as it
appears in the Quarto or "Tut, tut, Grace me no Grace, nor Unckle me,"
as it appears in the Folio.  So if you change tut to but and with a
little rearrangement you can come up with 'but me no buts' which going
by internet standards is not too much of a misattribution.

Paul Sugarman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Robinson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002 17:14:40 EST
Subject: 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

I doubt Shakespeare actually invented many words. He no doubt had a
great ear for the vernacular language surrounding him and was simply the
first person to use new words in print. As such, Shakespeare's writings
are a valuable terminus ante quem for etymologists.

Regards,
John Robinson

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 00:17:11 +0000
Subject: 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2389 How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

>I am intrigued by the statistic from the BBC (quoted by Al Margery in
>his recent post on the Great Britons series) which credits Shakespeare
>with inventing no less than 1700 words. I've heard similar claims
>before, of course, and I've often wondered how true they are. I also
>spent some time recently trying to track down (with no success)
>Shakespeare's use of the phrase 'but me no buts' for a linguistics
>colleague who had found numerous references to it as Shakespeare's
>invention on the internet.
>
>Stuart Hampton-Reeves

'But me no buts' seems to be first recorded in C18 (1708, to be precise)
-- it doesn't occur in Shakespeare.  Shakespeare doubtless coined many
words but he tends to be a bit over-represented in lists of neologisms
because his works were exhaustively read for the OED.

Peter Groves

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V. Knapp <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 01:52:30 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: SHK 13.2389 How Main Words Did Shakespeare
Comment:        Response to Re: SHK 13.2389 How Main Words Did Shakespeare
Invent?

Stuart --

Are you possibly thinking of the lines in *Romeo & Juliet* (III, v, 152)
where old Capulet is angry at Juliet's "chopped logic" and tells her to
"Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds ..." ?

JVK

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