Literary scholars love to swirl brandy in a fancy glass while they stick their noses high in the air, touting stuffily the contributions William Shakespeare made to the English language. And why not? The man used nearly 30,000 different words in the course of his writing career, thousands of which he invented. Shakespeare was a creative genius gone off the rails — he turned nouns into verbs and verbs into adjectives. He would combine two words to create one with an entirely new meaning, and pulled some right outta his pampered ass. And while the scholars applaud him as “The Father of the English Language,” they’re certainly not giving that same credit to contemporary rap artists who have coined more unique words than that poet ever did.

Artists like Outkast, the Wu-Tang Clan and Aesop Rock have used more unique words in their first 3-5 studio albums combined than Shakespeare did in many of his plays and sonnets. Numbers guy Matt Daniels ran an experiment comparing the first 35,000 words of seven Shakespearean plays to the first 35,000 words in a certain hip-hop artist’s repertoire, including albums, EPs, and mixtapes.

To do so, he counted the number of unique words in each artist's works to get an idea for who has more of an expansive vocabulary, and surprise, surprise: it wasn’t always Shakespeare. When comparing the word usage of 125 rappers, Father English got beat out by 22 hip-hop artists, the names of which can be found in the infographic of the findings below:

(Larger, interactive version of that image here)

If you look at that tiny head all the way out to the right, that's Aesop Rock. With 7,392 made-up, new words, he's done more to advance our language than anyone else.

Interestingly, the rappers with the largest vocabularies are all underground artists; Jedi Mind Tricks, Sage Francis, Kool Keith. By comparison, big dogs like Jay-Z, DMX and, laughably, Drake, have done the least to further the limits of language.

A caveat to keep in mind is that use of a greater number of unique words doesn’t necessarily translate into genuine contributions to the English language. For example, Outkast’s use of southern drawl, including words like “nahmsayin” and “er’yday” helped boost their unique word calculation considerably, but it's not like you'll be seeing any of those words on a SAT test anytime soon. The same is true of Snoop Dogg, who bolstered his unique word count with gems such as “bizzle,” “fizzle,” “nizzle,” “hizzle,” “shiznit,” “rizzle,” “skizzle,” and “fo shizzle.” Instead, an artist’s placement within in the infographic is more an indication of creativity and word versatility than the number of words successfully integrated into the common English vernacular.

However, that’s not to say hip-hop hasn’t had a huge impact on modern-day English. There are many words originating from hip-hop tracks that grew so prevalent they were given a place in reputable dictionaries. The same literary scholars who praise Shakespeare while they puff on their mahogany pipes were in an absolute uproar at the addition of “bling bling” to The Oxford Dictionary in 2003. Oxford, a dictionary renowned for its difficult standards in allowing new words onto its pages, defined “bling” as “denoting expensive, ostentatious clothing and jewelry, or the style or materialistic attitudes associated with them.” Since then, the old Oxford fogies have allowed several more hip-hop phrases to grace its pages, such as:

  • Dope (adjective) – very good: those pants are dope!
  • Phat (adjective) – excellent: a phat and funky song.
  • Jiggy (adjective) – uninhibited, especially in a sexual manner: I’d like to get jiggy with that young lady.
  • Twerk (verb) – to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance: she twerks it to her favorite song.

Language is a product of society, and as our society changes, so does our language. Rap artists have coined countless words and phrases that seamlessly fuse into conversational speech, and dissipate to the point that even your super lame mom is claiming her cookie recipe is “off the chain.” Nah mom, you’re straight trippin'. For that reason, it’s no surprise rap artists have collectively contributed more to modern English than Shakespeare ever did. Despite the aforementioned study that indicates their vocabularies are more extensive and the words within our dictionaries that are derived from their songs, hip-hop artists may never get the same recognition for their creative contributions.

But we won’t bother being salty with the old fuddy-duddy academics. Haters gonna hate.