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Activities and Events April 23, 2018 by

St Giles

It’s English Language Day!

English is one of the six official languages of the United Nations (along with Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish).

The UN designates 23rd April as English Language Day, as this is the date traditionally observed as both the birthday and date of death of the famous English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare.

Did you know that Shakespeare actually invented many common words and phrases in the English language? Although it is difficult to discover the true origin of a word, Shakespeare is credited to having invented over 1,700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and creating completely new words!

On English Language Day, let’s celebrate the history of the language and take a look at several words and phrases that we can thank Shakespeare for:

Barefacedshameless, or undisguised. You use barefaced to describe someone’s behaviour when they do not care that they are behaving badly. When someone tells a ‘barefaced lie’ it is not a very good lie and you know it is not true.

Dwindleto get smaller/diminish gradually in size, amount, or strength. Often used to describe money. Eg. His savings dwindled to almost nothing after he lost his job.

Watchdoga person or committee whose job is to make sure that companies do not act illegally or irresponsibly. Eg. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority is an advertising regulator who makes sure that companies’ adverts do not mislead consumers.

Sanctimoniouspretending to be very religious or righteous. People who act as if they are morally better than others are sanctimonious.

“It’s Greek to me” (From Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’) – When you say, “it’s Greek to me” you are admitting that you do not know or understand something. Eg. ‘I don’t know anything about computers. It’s all Greek to me!’

“A laughing stock” (from ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’) – A person who is subjected to mockery or ridicule by many people. Eg. “She was the laughing stock of her class”

“In a pickle” (first used in ‘The Tempest’) – To be “in a pickle” is to be in trouble or a difficult situation. Eg. ‘She still has not finished her English homework and the deadline is tomorrow. She is definitely in a pickle!’

“Break the ice” (The Taming of the Shrew) – Often when you meet someone for the first time, you “break the ice” by making conversation with them to avoid silence. Eg. ‘He told a few jokes to break the ice.’

“Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve” (from ‘Othello’) – If you wear your heart on your sleeve, you are open and honest about your feelings and emotions, rather than keeping them hidden.

Even though it can sometimes be a difficult and frustrating language to learn, English is an extremely useful language to know and can be fun when you learn about the history and origins of words. There are also many variations of English; American English, Canadian English, Irish English all have their own colloquialisms and slang. Therefore by learning English, you will also learn about other cultures too!

Happy English Language Day everyone!

PS: If you are studying in the UK, why not take a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London to watch one of his plays? See here for more information: