How many people can say that they coined phrases that will still be in use over 400 years after they introduced them? Only a handful, I would think. But I have discovered that William Shakespeare is to credit, or blame, for numerous phrases and proverbs in our English language. Here are just a few:
• Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2)
• Fair play (The Tempest)
• Foul play (Love’s Labours Lost)
• Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
• Hair stand on end (Hamlet)
• Heart’s content (Henry VI and The Merchant of Venice)
• In a pickle (The Tempest)
• Jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
• Love is blind (Merchant of Venice)
• One fell swoop (Macbeth) (by the way, fell = savage or cruel like felon)
• Pound of flesh (The Merchant of Venice)
• Salad days (Antony and Cleopatra)
• Send packing (I Henry IV)
• The short and the long of it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
• Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (“There’s a method to my madness”) (Hamlet)
• ‘Tis high time (The Comedy of Errors)
• Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)
• What the dickens (The Merry Wives of Windsor) (dickens = hell)
• Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)
There are other sayings that Good Ol’ Bill popularized, even if they weren’t his own, such as “It’s Greek to me” (Julius Caesar) and “All’s well that ends well” (All’s Well that Ends Well).
I had no idea how many commonly used expressions Shakespeare is responsible for! I have tried to imagine another person who has had such an influence on English. The only book I can think of that would rival The Complete Works of Shakespeare for infusing words and phrases into the English language is the Bible – which is actually a collection of sixty-six books written by forty authors.
How have Shakespeare’s words become so popular in our society? How is it that a 16th/17th century poet and playwright still exerts so much sway over our language today? I have to wonder if any other single person will ever match Shakespeare’s impact.
What Shakespearean phrases do you most like? If you want to see more, here are a few websites to check out:
Did you know that many of our expressions emanated from the Bard’s writing? Can you think of anyone else who has been a significant contributor to our language? And while we’re at it, what’s your favorite quote or play from William Shakespeare?