(To William Shakespeare, in his 400th anniversary year, whose new-coined words appear in italics.)Mighty wordsmith unsurpassed,
no words of mine can do thee justice.
Not even those of thy great forging.
How was it thou could’st plumb
the deepest crannies of our hearts and minds,
and from the crudest ore
of submerged and secret thoughts;
of emotions like brittle, uncut gems,
create wonders never before devised?
It is far beyond any power of mine
to conceive or imagine
how those who heard them first
received thy new creations.
Did thy new-wrought words
bring puzzlement, or awe?
Was the pedant angered?
Did thine inventions aggravate,
were they thought obscene?
Though they might wish to castigate thee,
They could not call thee barefaced –
they did not yet know the word!
When I pause and ponder
how we could live without thy words,
I am at a standstill.
Drawn from the fire of thy mind,
beaten into shape on the anvil of creativity,
thou didst forge so many words;
beautiful, serious, comic and curious.
Radiance, monumental and majestic;
leapfrog, frugal and fretful.
Our language was beautified by thee
with fragrant, and snow-white.
But single gems were not enough.
Seizing them in handfuls,
you gave us crowns and necklaces
never before devised by human mind.
In one fell swoop you turned us inside out,
playing fast and loose with past teachings.
Digging out old, well-used nouns,
you hammered them to verbs;
or, heating them twice over,
beat them into adjectives.
And they were not the only ones
to suffer a sea change;
you twisted them right and left
to give us new adverbs which could
tell us of a bastardly rogue.
The ancient rules of grammar
were never sacrosanct to thee.
leapt from thy wordsmith’s forge –
Who could have guessed
one might soon be breathing one’s last.
Or, to avoid becoming gloomy,
one might join a friend
in backing a horse?
I wish, mighty wordsmith,
I could see thee at work
in my mind’s eye, see thee
coining those words which are
our glorious heritage,
words which beggar all description.
I wish I could understand the source
from which those riches flowed.
But it’s too late, and I only pile
wonder on wonder when I ask myself,
‘How many countless and excellent
creations filled thy mind
of which we know nothing.’
How many were never written down?
How many were lost with thy passing?
How many have, bag and baggage,
vanished into thin air.
O mighty wordsmith,
accept our thanks and praise,
and from the summit of thy achievements
forgive our feeble misuse
of the wondrous treasures
thou didst leave us.
NOTE Shakespeare coined approximately 2,000 new words, and gave us innumerable new phrases. His vocabulary changed throughout his life – some 200 to 300 words in his early plays are never repeated, although some were retained in the language. The words coined in his younger years appeal to our senses, but his later words are more concerned with psychological considerations.
In an astonishingly short number of years Ben Jonson, Isaac Newton, Thomas More, then later, Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle, among others also coined new words for the English language, although not all their new words were taken up – Shakespeare’s gloomy was, but not his barky nor brisky.