iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Ken Adelman

Ken Adelman

Posted: July 20, 2010 09:11 AM

Bard Blog: Strange WordFellows -- Sarah Palin & William Shakespeare

What's Your Reaction:

Sarah Palin's used "refudiate" in a recent tweet, evidently melding "repudiate" and "refute." (Recall she attended five colleges before getting a degree.) But she quickly re-tweeted, "English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words."

Quite right is Ms. Palin, alas, for once.

It's hard to say how many words Shakespeare coined, but it runs into the thousands. More impressive is his massive vocabulary.

To give just a few statistics: Since his father was a tanner, who made gloves (but rose to become something like an alderman), he was raised in the lower middle class. Someone of that class would have had a normal vocabulary of 800 to 900 words.

A graduate of Oxford or Cambridge would then, in the 16th Century, have a normal vocabulary of 2,000 to 3,000 words.

John Milton, the greatest English poet one generation after Shakespeare, had a total vocabulary of 7,400 words - ironically the same number as the King James' version of the Bible written in that era.

William Shakespeare has a total vocabulary of - get this! - 29,000 words.

And it's not just the number of words but the way he put them together which gives us the English language we speak today.

In the clever compilation by that clever essayist and author, now deceased, Bernard Levin, you are quoting Shakespeare. Here's Levin at his wittiest:

If you cannot understand my argument and declare, 'It's all Greek to me,' you are quoting Shakespeare.

If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare.

If you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare.

If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare.

If you have ever refused to budge an inch, or suffered from green-eyed jealousy; if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked, or in a pickle,

If you have knitted your brow, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, or laughed yourself into stitches,

If you have had short shrift, cold comfort, or too much of a good thing; if you have ever seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise -- you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare.

If you clear out bag and baggage; if you think it is high time; and that it is the long and short of it.

If you believe the game is up and the truth will out, even if it involves your own flesh and blood.

If you lie low until the crack of dawn because you suspect foul play,

If you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then -- to give the devil his due -- if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare.

Even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing; if you wish I was dead as a doornail; if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded, or a blinking idiot, Then -- by jove! O all one to me,

YOU ARE QUOTING SHAKESPEARE!!