Friday, December 12, 2014

Why we should value the classics

Next time someone questions why we should value classic literature, point them in this direction:

11 Terrific Words Coined By John Milton

Among other things, classics can trace the introduction of new words into our language.  Shakespeare has long been hailed as having introduced many new words into the written language, but in fact Milton is responsible for more words than Shakespeare:

Sorry, Shakespeare; you're not No. 1. Though the playwright receives endless adulation for his artistic contributions, including the many new words and phrases he is believed to have coined, there’s another bard who’s got him beat on that front: John Milton. The author best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost has more neologisms attributed to him than any other writer, even William Shakespeare himself.

Some of the words that Milton coined are pretty fundamental to our language today, especially if you're a writer: words like earthshaking, unoriginal, and amazingly, the word space... as in, outer space.  He also, as it turns out, created one of my favorite words: pandemonium.  It meant something slightly different when he gave that name to his capital of hell, but the mental image of a city filled with demons and fallen angels probably still contributed to the meaning of the word today.

Where would we be without our classics?  Our language would be the poorer for it, clearly, but we would also have no way to trace back the origin of new words like this.

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