Tracing Shakespeare’s Footprints in Finance: And You Thought It Was Just Literature!

Considered one of the best poets and dramatists of all times, Shakespeare is a household name around the world. “But that’s all 16th century stuff, who speaks old-style English these days anyway?”, you say. Then you’ll be surprised to know that the oft-used phrase to “break the ice” you keep hearing at team meetings was in fact coined by the great Bard of Avon.

Despite the constant evolution of the English language and the continuous emergence of latest trends and words from various disciplines, the impact of the honorable poet’s contribution to English is so heavy that many of his words and phrases are still intact and just as relevant now as they were then. Across his written works, including plays, poems, and sonnets, it’s estimated that Shakespeare invented as many as 1,700. He did not just add more words to the dictionary, but he is also largely responsible for standardizing the language. This is because before his plays and other works became a huge hit with the English society around the 17th and 18th centuries, the written form lacked proper structure or governing rules.

Shakespeare has introduced many new terms and idioms that have refined the language, allowing us to express thoughts and emotions in a varied and colorful manner. For instance, when Hamlet is contemplating suicide, the young prince quotes:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep;”

However, the English language has made a long journey since the times of “thees” and “thous” used during Shakespeare’s period to present-day English. The language we speak now is much different, as words have evolved throughout history, taking on new meanings and adapting to current trends. This is especially apparent in a business setting, which – eschewing the drama and pathos – calls for a more concise and succinct style of writing. Shakespeare himself says it better: “Brevity is the soul of wit,” meaning to condense valuable information within a few well-chosen words.

Effective writing skills are an asset priced by any company, as it is through business correspondence (both verbal and written) that an organization communicates within and without. For example, a concise and compelling proposal can win potential clients, earn more revenue, and improve business performance. Compact analytical reports can help investors draw deep insights and enable better decision-making. It is so important that most companies invest considerable time and effort in developing the communication skills of its employees. Poorly written marketing materials, etc., can cause a company to lose a great deal of money, damaging its reputation into the bargain. Hence, it is crucial for anyone working in a business environment to keep their verbal and writing repertoire in tip-top shape.

Though we use modern English in our day-to-day correspondence, much of the Shakespearean language has survived into the 21st century. Some of the terms widely used in financial writing, such as dwindle, exposure, and frugal, are taken from his works. A case in point, the classical dilemma of every investor “To invest or not to invest, that is the question” is an alternate spin of his famous “To be or not to be.”