Much has been talked about Shakespeare’s innovation with words – particularly his creation of thousands of words and phrases now in common usage as part of the English language. However, even Shakespeare was capable of the odd stinker…did you know that for all of Shakespeare’s newly invented phrases and words in use, there are plenty more that Shakespeare tried to launch but didn’t make the grade?
For example, swoltery, quatch, wappened, boggler, carlot and foxship were all words used for the first time in print in one or more of Shakespeare’s plays, but all quickly fell into disuse. See more info in this rather amusing clip from QI:
David Mitchell hit on an important point. I was discussing with a friend that Shakespeare’s words must have been well understood otherwise his plays would have sounded like gibberish. Those words had to have been in general use. He was a close listener of the Londoners at the time, his audience. He had his ear close to the ground to avoid getting into trouble during a very volatile and dangerous time amid political and religious turmoil. This meant he was also hearing first-hand how the English language was changing and how to communicate to his audience in a very trendy with-it manner — know their words. You wouldn’t know which new words worked until they filtered through the population, which kept the useful ones. Some of the “failed” words were not failures in their historical cultural context because they once had a useful meaning. How some phrases became full of meaning and useful today is a mystery, for example “pomp and circumstance”.