We all work to try to keep out brains alive through our eyes, and there’s a new way of creating fresh pathways of understanding — and it is delivered to us from afar via our old friend, William Shakespeare using language and “Functional Shifts” found in his plays.

Here’s a keen explanation of how Shakespeare keeps our minds alive with invention:

In all of his plays, sonnets and narrative poems, Shakespeare used 17,677 words. Of these, he invented approximately 1,700, or nearly 10 percent. Shakespeare did this by changing the part of speech of words, adding prefixes and suffixes, connecting words together, borrowing from a foreign language, or by simply inventing them, the way a rapper like Snoop Dogg has today. (Another exemplary instance is the way HBO’s series The Wire has integrated slang into our contemporary vernacular.)

What’s the Big Idea?

In the past, most brain experiments would involve the study of defects, and use a lack of health in the brain to show what it can do. Professor Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool’s School of English is approaching brain research in a different way. He is studying what he calls “functional shifts” that demonstrate how Shakespeare’s creative mistakes “shift mental pathways and open possibilities” for what the brain can do. It is Shakespeare’s inventions–particularly his deliberate syntactic errors like changing the part of speech of a word–that excite us, rather than confuse us.

I’m not sure if we can compare Snoop Dogg and “The Wire” to the way Shakespeare has molded and influenced us as a nation of language and perception welded to meaning, but the idea that we can ignite the brain by playing with the structure of words is quite delightful.

We tend to live in a time where meaning is often misappropriated by those who want to serve a selfish, and often political agenda, and that’s why we must be wary of modern attempts to sway language and labels when lives are at stake — and that’s why keeping our brains alive afar, via Shakespeare, makes much more sense because we understand the original intention of the invention was to challenge and entertain and not to punish us with a current, and malleable, deception.


  1. That makes sense. Trick the mind to force it to make new literary connections. I’ll have to dig out my big copy of Shakespeare books and start reading again.

  2. When Sarah Failin Palin compared herself to Shakespeare because she had misused a word and then tried to say she did it on purpose, society had to sigh. He was a genius and really pushed the boundaries of what it meant to make a play. Who amongst us even comes close to using that many words in their writing?

    1. There is something really wrong with her. Can you imagine having her making critical decisions on the future of this nation? I shudder. Shakespeare broke all the rules while respecting the underlying, originating, context. That’s tough to do and his great success is met with heralded respect.

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