Phrases that Shakespeare Invented

A couple of days ago we published an article that looked at the Bard, William Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language. He created many words and phrases that are now a legitimate part of the language, but previously had meant nothing. In that article we looked at the words he created, whilst in this article we’ll look at some of the phrases that were first used in Shakespeare’s writings but have since become a part of the language.

It’s all Greek to me: First used in Julius Caesar, this saying is used to suggest that the speaker doesn’t understand something. If someone is explaining the rules of football to someone who has never played the game and are then asked if they understand, they might use this phrase.

Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve: Although the current use of this phrase has been changed and somewhat modernized, the basis is still there. It means to be completely open about your feelings, or to be the sort of person who is open about their feelings. It was first used in Othello.

Break the ice: To break the ice is to open and begin a potential awkward conversation. This saying was first used in Hamlet.

Too much of a good thing: First used in the comic play As you Like it, this is the age old wisdom that everything is fine in moderate doses, but if you have too much, even of a good thing, then it will be bad for you.

In a pickle: First used in The Tempest, this phrase is used to describe someone who is in an awkward or difficult situation, one that many Shakespearean characters found themselves in.

Clothes make the man: This is used to suggest that the clothes that a man wears shows what he is like as a person. It undoubtedly refers more to status and class than anything else, but that was not Shakespeare’s initial intention. This saying was first used in Hamlet.

All that glitters isn’t gold: First used in the Merchant of Venice, this saying advises caution against counterfeits and fakes by suggesting that just because it glitters doesn’t mean it is gold, but it is also used to refer to people who try to trick and deceive.

Fair play: It is strange to think that such a simple and common expression was not somehow an innate part of the language, but this expression was actually first used in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Other sayings that were created by William Shakespeare in his vast collection of work include “Eat you out of house and home”, which refers to someone who is seemingly doing their best to bankrupt you by eating all of your food; “give the devil his due” which is used to praise even bad or evil people when they do something right: “heart of gold” which refers to someone who is warm, loving and generous; “method in his madness”, “minds eye”, “naked truth” and “neither a borrower not a lender be”.

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