I’ll give credit where credit is due: William Shakespeare definitely has his valued place in the depths of the English language.
Bernard Levin, in his Enthusiasms, London and New York, 1983, says: If you cannot understand my argument and declare ‘It’s Greek to me’, you are quoting Shakespeare… if you have knitted your brow… insisted on fair play, slept not a wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance, laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort, or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise, why leave it as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are quoting Shakespeare.”
Who else blazoned pathways that helped English gain popularity even several centuries later? Here are four other influential contributors to the English language.
In 1476, William Caxton brought the process of movable type printing to England, becoming the first English printer. Before Caxton, books used the Latin language. Caxton’s contribution to the English language was immense. Within one century, books were printed so rapidly that barely any new hand-written books were produced. Twenty-thousand books printed in English were in existence by 1640. Also, Caxton’s printing helped promote a “standard, uniform language” throughout England and surrounding territories.
Richard Mulcaster advocated for English to become the chief tongue throughout Europe. He authored Elementarie in 1582, which was the “most important treatise on English spelling in the sixteenth century”, writes A.C. Baugh & T. Cable in A History of the English Language (2002). Mulcaster desired to let English adapt on its own through time, so he laid down only a moderate amount of rules. His main focus was for consistent spelling of words. Although Mulcaster’s progress in regards to reforming the English spelling is unknown, he was often quoted by influential author Ben Jonson.
Thomas Elyot authored The Governour, the first book on education written in English. According to A History of the English Language, in his dedication to Henry the Eighth, Elyot brings several new words into society like “describe”, “education”, and “dedicate”. The new words were Elyot’s attempt to improve the English language’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, in Elyot’s time, the English language still had its limitations in regard to classical languages. So Elyot borrowed words, especially from Latin, even though some of his contemporaries were not in favor of ink-horn terms.
The King James Bible, sponsored by its namesake, King James, was published in 1611. It used the late phase of the Early Modern English language. The King James Bible became the standard Bible for the Church of England. Since this Bible was read aloud to church congregations, this translation helped the English people understand a standard form of the language.
Due to advances in printing technology, the Bibles could now be produced in large editions for mass sale, establishing complete dominance in public and ecclesiastical use in the English-speaking, Protestant world.
Manifold Greatness, a blog dedicated to the creation and lasting influence of the King James Bible, explains that, “The King James Version was the dominant English-language Bible for 350 years and had no significant rivals until the Revised Standard Version appeared in the 1950s. Since then, many new translations have been published, but the KJV remains the most popular book in the English language.”