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7 Everyday Phrases Attributed to Shakespeare ...

By Neecey

Everyday Phrases have various etymologies and I find them absolutely fascinating. So many of them come from the military and navy such as three sheets to the wind, going off at half cock, others have a basis in religion whilst others come from Latin. However, a great many of our everyday phrases were first penned by William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was a prolific writer and most of us are familiar with many quotes from his plays. I bet most people are actually surprised by how many they do know but I wonder how many of you realize just how many words and common expressions are from his pen. Here are 7 Everyday Phrases Attributed to Shakespeare.

Table of contents:

  1. Green-eyed monster
  2. All that glisters is not gold
  3. Love is blind
  4. Wild goose chase
  5. Brevity is the soul of wit
  6. Lay it on with a trowel
  7. Make your hair stand on end

1 Green-Eyed Monster

Meaning: Envy/jealousy.

Green was associated with sickness due to the pallor of skin when people are ill and is also the color of unripe foods that cause stomach pains. Shakespeare used the phrase first in a speech by Portia in the Merchant of Venice and then includes it to a line spoken by Iago in Othello

2 All That Glisters is Not Gold

Meaning: Outward ostentation does not mean something is valuable.

This is the most commonly mis-stated of all Shakespeare’s quotes. Most people say all that glitters is not gold. The word in the original text is glisters. Although this is one of the everyday phrases attributed to Shakespeare, used by him in The Merchant of Venice in 1596 – scholars argue that the idea has earlier examples such as the line, All is not golde that glistereth, penned by Thomas Becon in 1553 in The Relikes of Rome.

3 Love is Blind

Meaning: If you love someone, it doesn't matter what they look like. Faults are overlooked.

Love is blind is one of Shakespeare’s own favorite sayings that has become one of our everyday phrases. He uses it in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry V and as here in The Merchant of Venice: … But love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit …

4 Wild Goose Chase

Meaning: A hopeless quest.

We might assume that this phrase refers to the fruitlessness of trying to catch a wild goose but in fact this is believed to be reference to an old sport of horse racing when horses followed a lead horse at a set distance in the same V formation as flying geese. The first recorded citation of wild goose chase is in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, penned in 1592.

5 Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Meaning: articulate and intelligent wit is achieved with a few well chosen words.

Of all the everyday phrases attributed to Shakespeare few are as succinct and unambiguous as this one. It’s a line in a speech by Lord Polonius in Hamlet, written in 1602.

6 Lay It on with a Trowel

Meaning: Be over generous with flattery, crudely labor a point.

First coined in As You Like It, written in 1600. Best demonstrated by its actual usage:

LE BEAU: Fair princess, you have lost much good sport.
CELIA: Sport! of what colour?
LE BEAU: What colour, madam! how shall I answer you?
ROSALIND: As wit and fortune will.
TOUCHSTONE: Or as the Destinies decree.
CELIA: Well said: that was laid on with a trowel.

7 Make Your Hair Stand on End

Meaning: Reaction to something frightening

This is one of Shakespeare’s wonderfully evocative everyday phrases and you instantly know exactly what anyone means when they say it. The Bard used it so marvelously in Hamlet: "I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine…"

I could go on forever. We have William Shakespeare to thank for so many other everyday phrases including "break the ice," "wear your heart on your sleeve," "clothes maketh the man," "pound of flesh," "in a pickle," "fair play and foul play," "heart of gold," "too much of a good thing," "tower of strength," and laughing stock. As well as everyday phrases, Shakespeare is also credited with introducing/inventing new words including: castigate, dwindle, barefaced, multitudinous, clangor, watchdog, dextrously, baseless and sanctimonious. I personally think that in the days of lol, gr8 and cul8r, it’s important to give credence to and celebrate Everyday Phrases Attributed to Shakespeare or maybe you disagree? If you are interested, here’s a link to a huge great list of words and phrases that first appeared in Shakespeare’s works:

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