An Australian expert on Shakespeare claims the bard did not invent many of the words and phrases attributed to him, saying the mistake is due to the Oxford English Dictionary’s “bias” towards citing literary examples of early usages.
Noting examples such as “it was Greek to me” and “wild goose chase”, Dr David McInnis, from Melbourne University, said online searches of old texts had helped to uncover pre-Shakespeare uses for many words and phrases that are frequently credited to him.
“Did Shakespeare really invent all these words and phrases?” he wrote in an article for the university’s online magazine.
“The short answer is no. His audiences had to understand at least the gist of what he meant, so his words were mostly in circulation already or were logical combinations of pre-existing concepts.”
I’ve been saying this for a long time. He obviously didn’t “invent” words, because no one would have understood them. But he was writing at a time when not much was published, and the Oxford English Dictionary used his examples as the first usage they could find. The article points out that earlier usages are easier to find now, thanks to the internet and digitization of old books.
Shakespeare certainly did invent some of the expressions that are in his plays, but words? Nope. He was writing theater for the masses, and they needed to understand the words.
Source: Stop saying Shakespeare invented so many phrases – he cribbed most of them, Australian academic claims