Word up

Listen to this: I just read that William Shakespeare invented over 1700 words. 1700! And I’m not talking about ‘nonny’. Among the examples on the list I saw were everyday favourites like ‘champion’, ‘amazement’, ‘lonely’, ‘submerge’, ‘courtship’, ‘excitement’, ‘gossip’, ‘puking’, ‘hint’, ‘eyeball’, ‘accused’, ‘tranquil’ and ‘elbow’. How did that work then? ‘Thou knowst that bit of thy arm where the bend is? Methinks I shall call it an “elbow”. Laugh not – this time next year, thou shalt all be at it.’ The truth is that we have always had more things than words for things. Douglas Adams and John Lloyd spotted this some years ago and bridged a few of the gaps with their book The Meaning of Liff. According to them, a ‘quenby’ is a spot of dirt on a window which you scrub for ten minutes before realising that it’s on the other side of the glass. To ‘smarden’ is to smile through your teeth at a story you’ve heard already. A ‘winkley’ is a lost object that turns up as soon as you buy a replacement. An ‘aith’ is the solitary bristle that pokes out the side of a cheap paintbrush. This is all good stuff, and I have been prompted to come up with a coinage of my own. It took several hours but I got there in the end. Ahem: ‘Glossaninny (n.) One who gets all excited about the idea of inventing words only to find out that he’s no good at it himself.’

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