400 years on – how the Bard continues to influence Britain’s workplaces

Saturday will mark the 400th anniversary of the death of one of Britain’s most famous literary geniuses, William Shakespeare.

What is somewhat less known is that Shakespeare is credited with coining over 1700 words that are now in use in English, generally through changing nouns into verbs and verbs into adjectives, connecting existing words and, in some cases, coming up with wholly new creations.

To mark the occasion, we have selected five words that the playwright brought into our language which are heard up and down businesses throughout the UK on a daily basis:

1. Compromise (first found in The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3)

First uttered by Shylock who declared “mark what Jacob did when Laban and himself were compromised”, there are few businesses – from start-ups right through to multinationals arranging major deals – that can make many decisions without some degree of compromise being reached.

2. Negotiate (Much Ado about Nothing, Act 2, Scene 1)

Derived from the Latin negotium – literally meaning ‘business’, neg standing for ‘not’ and otium meaning ‘leisure’ – Shakespeare moved the word into its current meaning of ‘done in the course of business’ through the character of Claudio, when saying “Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent”. Now, of course, almost every aspect of business involves some degree of negotiation skills.

3. Advertising (Measure for Measure, Act 5, Scene 1)

Few businesses will get very far without making some investment into advertising, and Duke Vincento recognises its power at an early stage, suggesting to Isabella “Your friar is now your prince: as I was then advertising and holy to your business.”  Little could the Duke have realised that advertising – both holy and unholy – is now worth an estimated £420 billion worldwide.

4. Champion (Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 1)

Businesses seek to be champions in their own field while many encourage employees to take on championing roles – be that to support local communities, charities or even their fellow workers. But ‘champion’ began life in a much more sinister fashion. Macbeth himself calls upon fate to “champion me to the utterance!” essentially asking death to be his champion against Banquo, who is murdered before the scene ends.

5. Marketable (As you Like It, Act 1, Scene 2)

This first appeared during a conversation between Rosalind and Celia, with the latter responding to Rosalind’s concern that “We shall be news-crammed” with the retort “All the better, we shall be the more marketable.” Now the word stands for the idea to make a business successfully generate revenue.

A version of this article first appeared in Workplace Insight

Adam Harwood is AAT's Media Relations Manager.

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