This page discusses Shakespeare phrases and idioms – all of the phrases Shakespeare invented when writing his many works.
As if all of the words Shakespeare invented were not enough, he also frequently put common words together to make up phrases new to the English language. Whilst most people in the English speaking world are aware of at least a handful of famous Shakespeare quotes – phrases like ‘to be or not to be‘ and ‘et tu, Brute?‘, what’s less well known is the number of Shakespeare phrases still in common usage today. Phrases such as ‘pure as the driven snow‘, ‘wild goose chase’, ‘break the ice’ and ‘cruel to be kind’ are all examples of lines that first appeared in a Shakespeare play. See our list below of phrases Shakespeare invented that are still very much in use today:
- all that glitters isn’t gold
- all the world’s a stage
- be all and end all
- break the ice
- breathe one’s last
- brevity is the soul of wit
- catch a cold
- clothes make the man
- disgraceful conduct
- dog will have his day
- eat out of house and home
- elbow room
- fair play
- flaming youth
- foregone conclusion
- frailty, thy name is woman
- give the devil his due
- green eyed monster
- heart of gold
- it smells to heaven
- it’s Greek to me
- live long day
- method in his madness
- mind’s eye
- ministering angel
- more sinned against than sinning
- naked truth
- neither a borrower nor a lender be
- one fell swoop
- outrageous fortune
- pitched battle
- primrose path
- strange bedfellows
- the course of true love never did run smooth
- the lady doth protest too much
- the milk of human kindness
- to thine own self be true
- too much of a good thing
- towering passion
- wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve
- witching time of the night
When we talk about ‘Shakespeare phrases’ we mean the many sayings, idioms and phrases that Shakespeare invented that are still in common usage today. It’s unlikley that native English speakers are able to get through a day without using one or more Shakespeare sayings in one way or another, without even thinking about it.
Take for example a poster used in many English literature classrooms, devised by a famous English journalist, Bernard Levin some years ago. It reads:
If you cannot understand my argument and declare it’s Greek to me, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare. If you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied – a tower of strength – hoodwinked or been in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows – made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play – slept not one wink – stood on ceremony – danced attendance on your lord and master – laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift – cold comfort, or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days, or lived in a fool’s paradise, why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare. If you think it is high time, and that that is the long and the short of it, if you believe that the game is up, and that the truth will out, even if involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low – till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge at one fell swoop – without rhyme or reason, then to give the devil his due if the truth were known for surely you have a tongue in your head, you are quoting Shakespeare. Even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a doornail, if you think I am an eyesore – a laughing stock – the devil incarnate – a stony-hearted villain – bloody-minded, or a blinking idiot, then by jove – o lord– tut, tut! – For goodness sake – what the dickens! – but me no buts – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
You can take this concept of how integrated Shakespeare phrases are to everyday English even further, by imagining two friends having a conversation. One is very sad as she’s just broken up with her boyfriend. The conversation might go something like this:
‘He just left: all of a sudden. Without rhyme or reason.’
‘Well, good riddance, I say.’
‘I know. I was living in a fool’s paradise.’
‘The world’s your oyster now.’
‘But he’s made a laughing stock of me.’
‘I say again, good riddance. He was eating you out of house and home, for one thing. You should have sent him packing long ago.’
‘Just gone: in the twinkling of an eye.’
‘Well, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. He was enough to set one’s teeth on edge.’
‘Thanks. You’re a tower of strength. A heart of gold.’
‘You really are a sorry sight.’
‘I know, I haven’t slept a wink.’
‘What did you see in him? It’s Greek to me.’
‘Well, you know. Love is blind.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘I don’t know. He’s vanished into thin air.’
That may be everyday language, but the incredible thing is that almost everything said is a Shakespeare phrase, invented by the bard.
Read enough about the phrases Shakespeare invented? Why not see them in action by reading up on how Shakespeare’s characters used his words – Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Prospero and many more…
phrase “my salad days” from shakespear play.
The very first phrase here – I believe it is normally “All that glisters is not gold”
Yes, you’re right! Than you for pointing it out; it really irritates me when this one is misquoted.
The Merchant of Venice: Act 2, Sc.7, line 65.
Prince of Morocco
All that glisters is not gold.
Correct Dee! In this article we’re looking at phrases in use today that Shakespeare invented, and whilst the original was indeed “all that glisters…”, these days it’s evolved into “all that glitters…”. Much more on that here: https://nosweatshakespeare.mystagingwebsite.com/quotes/all-that-glitters-is-not-gold/
How about some more from Hamlet? ‘Something is rotten in Denmark’ from “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” ‘Method in his madness’ is a paraphrase of “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” ‘Piece of work’ from “What a piece of work is a man…” “Sweets to the sweet.”
How many motion picture titles can you find from Hamlet’s 3rd soliloquy? 4 come immediately to mind…”To Be or Not to Be” (1983), “Outrageous Fortune” (1987). Star Trek VI “The Undiscovered Country” (1991). “What dreams May Come” (1998).
“All the world is a stage” from As you like it. Often quoted, in the French translation at least.
I’ve amassed most of S’s literature over the years but I have to say this little piece of concentrated information is brilliant because it encapsulates every “last word” of the bard’s more famous phrases.
I’m finished mam
Nice list and very excellent backgrounder on some of these Shakespearisms…
Pardon me, but “baited breath” is incorrect. The Bard did not insert an ‘I’ in the word.
It should be “bated breath.”
It’s linked to the word, “abate” (reduce) and means that the breath is held in, held back, that the person “hardly dares breathe.”
It has nothing to do with “bait,” such as an enticing substance or opportunity, designed to lure a victim into a trap or onto a hook.