8 Modern Words That We Get From Shakespeare


Ever had someone tell you they questioned if a guy from 500 years ago could still be relevant today? I have. So many times people ask me, “How do you read that stuff? Isn’t the text too antiquated?” (Ok, maybe they don’t say “antiquated.” Most people just say “old.”) But either way, the answer is still a resounding: No!

Shakespeare’s words are not only still relevant today, they are so deeply ingrained into modern culture, and the English vocabulary specifically, that you use Shakespeare almost daily without even realizing it’s him you’re quoting. Here are eight examples of words we commonly use today as part of the modern vernacular that can be traced back to Shakespeare as words he gave us through his plays.

How’s that for staying relevant?

  1. Bandit
    In Henry VI Part I the Earl of Suffolk uses the phrase banditto when he says:

    Come, soldiers, show what cruelty ye can, That this my death may never be forgot! Great men oft die by vile bezonians: A Roman sworder and banditto slave Murder’d sweet Tully; Brutus’ bastard hand Stabb’d Julius Caesar; savage islanders Pompey the Great; and Suffolk dies by pirates.” (Act IV, Scene I)

    In Timon of Athens, their is a character named banditt (spelled with two letter “t”s) who appears twice in the stage directions.

  2. Obsequiously
    This word, while not modern vernacular, is currently in use by modernity, and was first coined when Lady Anne said these words in Richard III:

    Set down, set down your honourable load, If honour may be shrouded in a hearse, Whilst I awhile obsequiously lament The untimely fall of virtuous Lancaster. (Act I, Scene II)

    It is the only time Shakespeare ever used this word. How powerful is a single word?

  3. Mountaineer
    True to modern usage, even the Shakespearean mountaineers were rugged, as you can see from this quote by Cloten in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline:

    And on the gates of Lud’s-town set your heads: Yield, rustic mountaineer. (Act IV, Scene II)

    The word was used five times by Shakespeare, and four of those were in Cymbeline. The last was in The Tempest.

  4. Academe
    Used only twice, and both times in Love’s Labour’s Lost, we can see the word in part defined when Ferdinand says:

    Our court shall be a little Academe, Still and contemplative in living art. (Act I, Scene I)

    The second use is from the famous speech by Biron who literally waxes poetic about “the books, the academes, from whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.” (Act IV, Scene III)

  5. Swagger
    Shakespeare uses this word an incredible twelve times. My favorite use of the word comes in Troilius and Cressida when Thersites says:

    Will he swagger himself out on’s own eyes? (Act V, Scene II)

    It’s a truly hilarious word, made more so when you realize how it’s used in Shakespeare to mean drunk and staggering around rather than possessing some other worldly cool as we use it today.

  6. Champion
    This word is used in Shakespeare more than any other on this list, an astonishing nineteen times! Embodying the modern definition of champion, Pericles uses the word in the play of that same name:

    Like a bold champion, I assume the lists, Nor ask advice of any other thought But faithfulness and courage. (Act I, Scene I)


  7. Olympian
    Was Shakespeare foreshadowing the Olympic games? See what the Duke of Clarence says here about Olympians in Henry VI Part III:

    And, if we thrive, promise them such rewards As victors wear at the Olympian games (Act II Scene III)


  8. Negotiate
    Shakespeare uses this word so well, it’s hard to believe he invented it. It reads naturally and like we use it today when Olivia speaks this line in Twelfth Night:

    Have you any commission from your lord to negotiate with my face? (Act I, Scene V)


Eventually, you’ll want to prove to someone that Shakespeare is relevant.

Download this list and keep it on hand when you need a modern application for Shakespeare.

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