Australian academic David McInnis claims literary bias by first editors of OED has credited Shakespeare with inventing phrases in common Elizabethan use
Shakespeare did not coin phrases such as its Greek to me and a wild goose chase, according to an Australian academic.
In an article for the University of Melbourne, Dr David McInnis, a Shakespeare lecturer at the institution, accuses the Oxford English Dictionary of bias over its citation of Shakespeare as the originator of hundreds of words in English. The OED, which saw its original volumes published between 1884 and 1928, includes more than 33,000 Shakespeare quotations, according to McInnis, with around 1,500 of those the first evidence of a words existence in English, and around 7,500 the first evidence of a particular usage of meaning.
But the OED is biased: especially in the early days, it preferred literary examples, and famous ones at that, writes McInnis. The Complete Works of Shakespeare was frequently raided for early examples of word use, even though words or phrases might have been used earlier, by less famous or less literary people.
Shakespeare himself, according to McInnis, didnt really invent all the words and phrases which are attributed to him. 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.
The phrase its Greek to me, for example, referring to unintelligible speech, is used in Julius Caesar, when Casca says of Cicero that: Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me. The play, which McInnis dates to 1599, is the earliest example of the phrase given in the OED, but the academic points out that searching for it in the digital resource Early English Books Online throws up its usage in Robert Greenes The Scottish History of James the Fourth, printed in 1598 but possibly written in 1590. In it, a lord asks a lady if shell love him, and she replies ambiguously: I cannot hate. wriest McInnis. He presses the point and asks if shell wed him, at which point she pretends not to understand him at all: Tis Greek to me, my Lord is her final reply.
Originally found athttp://www.theguardian.com/us