Best of British: 60 things that make Britain great

Imagine you're cut off in a far-off land. What longings would be uppermost in your mind? Here we celebrate those aspects of life that make our islands distinct and beguiling.

46. The English language

english language

Addiction, excitement, generous are just three of the 1,700 words William Shakespeare contributed to the English language. When he was busy creating his masterpieces, modern English was less than 100 years old and consulting a dictionary wasn’t an option—Samuel Johnson’s didn’t emerge until 1755. Our most famous of playwrights not only wrote with a vocabulary approximately four times larger than that of the average person at the time, he also greatly developed the stylistic range and variation of English. Consult any current dictionary, and you’ll find some 600,000 entries reflecting this ever-changing tongue, which is the official language of more than 60 countries.

‘They had nothing in common but the English language’
(Howards End, E. M. Forster)

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