Shakespeare Had It Right – Doug Irvin
There are in excess of 170,000 words in the English language. It’s impossible to tell exactly how many, because some words are used with different meanings, so are loan words from other languages (hence considered English) and some are derived from other words as slang and similar terms.
Think of it: over ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THOUSAND WORDS plus extras. I doubt even an unabridged dictionary has that many – in fact, I question if any list any where has a complete collection.
And, as writers, we are supposed to be masters of the lexicon, wizards of the word, adepts of the arcane definitions. Okay, I’ll stop.
Seriously, though. The immensity is awesome. I’ve loved the sheer beauty of this language from a very early age (I note with pride winning the Third Grade Spelling Bee!) and am enamored of the fluidity of precision and meaning it is capable of providing.
But I am no where near even ten thousand words strong.
Shakespeare, according to a comedian’s claim, knew 54,000. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=29&v=OxoUUbMii7Q)
Imagine having a Fifty-Four Thousand working vocabulary – and please note I doubt he had access to either a dictionary or thesaurus.
I am flabbergasted. I am in awe. I am left wordless. Well, maybe not the last.
But fifty-four thousand words! The level of precision in language is unbelievable.
Also, please note, the capabilities of double meanings is increased nearly exponentially. Read any of his plays, and you’ll see characters punning in every scene. The man was a master of paronomasia. He could develop multiple scenes based on manifold meanings.
The greatest benefit he gained from his vocabulary was the ability to use an imprecise word for the right one for the context, and thus cause the reader to contemplate both right and wrong conclusions. I, at my utter best, have been able to render a three level pun: one with an immediate double entendre, a secondary meaning that causes a brief outburst of laughter or a giggle an hour or two later, and a third that wakes you up in the middle of the night thinking, “Aw, MAN!”.
Shakespeare’s plays are still causing guffaws centuries after his death. THAT is mastery. And he only had a fraction of the language at his disposal.
I’m of the opinion that all the cryptic utterings of various oracles throughout history is a result of an excellent vocabulary and an inability to choose the proper word. Or perhaps a desire for an inward snicker as the seeker leaves with a pole-axed look on their face.
A writer of science fiction a few decades ago produced a story in which a robot started writing novels. He/It/She was a resounding success. Perhaps we, as proponents of the written word, should seek a ban on Artificial Intelligence; if for no other reason than job security!