In a recent article, the Guardian states that

Shakespeare is also responsible for the modern meaning of "odd".

What is the evidence for this? The textual evidence alone is thin and unconvincing.

Is Shakespeare really the source of our modern meaning for odd as unexpected, strange, or unusual?

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    The OED has citations for this meaning from ca 1500, almost a century before Shakespeare wrote his plays. "How ferre odde those persones are from the nature of this prince." (1542) Apr 5, 2014 at 13:15
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    @PeterShor that should be an answer! :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 5, 2014 at 14:22
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it turns on blurring the distinction between first recorded use (of a word or sense which may well have been around for some time) and innovative coinage (of a usage which we assume never previously existed at all). Apr 5, 2014 at 16:06
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    @PeterShor The Middle English Dictionary has even earlier citations, one from 1450, and one from Gower 1393 which makes the transition from the numeric to the figurative significance clear. Apr 5, 2014 at 16:08
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    @FumbleFingers No, etymonline says only '1580s', which does not exclude Shakespeare. The date of TS is very controversial, many scholars holding that it derives from an Ur-Shrew of the 1580s. OED 1, under 6.b. gives a citation to LLL which it dates to 1588. The question cannot be answered without access to a source providing a citation demonstrably earlier than any of Shakespeare's uses of the word in this sense. Apr 5, 2014 at 17:34

2 Answers 2


No, odd had this meaning much earlier. The first citation the OED gives for it is around 1500. The 1542 citation:

"How ferre odde those persones are from the nature of this prince."

quite clearly has this meaning.

Furthermore, Troilus and Cressida has the following dialogue, where Shakespeare is punning on the two different meanings of odd:

Menelaus. I'll give you boot, I'll give you three for one.
Cressida. You're an odd man; give even or give none.
Menelaus. An odd man, lady! every man is odd.
Cressida. No, Paris is not; for you know 'tis true,
That you are odd, and he is even with you.

If he had just invented one of the meanings, these puns wouldn't be funny.

  • Is 1500 "modern"? I don't know really.
    – Kris
    Apr 6, 2014 at 6:50

Shakespeare is also responsible for the modern meaning of "odd".

Obviously, you have read the sentence at variance from what the author meant.

If the bard were the first to use the word in that sense, then why also? Moreover, what is the awkward "responsible" doing there when one would expect a direct attribution?

The author seems to imply that had Shakespeare not described the Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado as "too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd, as it were" in Love's Labour's Lost, the Modern sense of the word would not have caught on. "Originally, the word only had a numerical sense. It was used in phrases such as 'odd man out', the unpaired member of a group of three."

Expressions and their meanings just get wider acceptance when used in widely-read and respected writings.

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