Shakespeare Came Up With A Theoretical Physics Term 350 Years Early

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As science comes up with new concepts it also creates new terms to describe them. But sometimes, the term they're looking for already exists. Here's how Shakespeare came up with a term for a theoretical physics concept almost 350 years before it had been invented.

Wormhole may sound like a rather modern coining, but it actually dates back to 1594 when Shakespeare used it in a verse of his poem The Rape of Lucrece (h/t to commenter Guild_Navigator, who reminded us of the verse in the comments of this post, on a mathematician who created his own language):

"To fill with worm-holes stately monuments,
To feed oblivion with decay of things,
To blot old books and alter their contents,
To pluck the quills from ancient ravens' wings."


Curiously, though in this first recorded instance wormhole holds a much more literal meaning (along with a hyphen it would later shed), the reference to time is already a subtle part of the word's definition as dictionary Merriam Webster points out: "Even the Bard subtly linked 'wormholes' to the passage of time; for example, in The Rape of Lucrece, he notes time's destructive power 'to fill with worm-holes stately monuments.'"

For many years after Shakespeare used the term, the word seldom surfaced again (except to be used in its most literal sense). Then, in the late '50s, physicist John A. Wheeler, who you may also know for coming up with the term "black hole", brought it back.


The concept of a link across space-time already existed under the name "Einstein-Rosen bridge." Wheeler suggested the term "wormhole" as a replacement, using an analogy not entirely dissimilar to the one Shakespeare came up with years ago. Although in Wheeler's example, the worm way munching its way through an apple, and that apple was not really an apple, but space-time.

Image: Artist's conception of a wormhole / Alain r