Wednesday Words: Shakespeare Shares

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

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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?

10 thoughts on “Wednesday Words: Shakespeare Shares

  1. There's a terrific little book out now called "How Shakespeare Changed Everything" by Stephen Marche. Did you know Shakespeare invented the name Jessica for "The Merchant of Venice"? I didn't either, until that book. The fact that so much of his vocab is ours yet we treat Shakespeare as a foreign language boggles my mind.

  2. Wow. This is so interesting. And many of his works are responsible for the themes we still use in literature today as well. How many stories are there about star-crossed lovers? I loved studying Shakespeare.

  3. @mfantaliswrites – That sounds like an interesting book. I should pick it up! (By the way, I have a history degree too.)@Erin – Definitely the star-crossed lovers! I know that people think Twilight is Jane Eyre; I think it's Romeo & Juliet (Capulets & Montagues = Humans & Vampires). So many more where that came from.

  4. Love the post, Julie! It's amazing the impact William Shakespeare has had on language, performance art, and even popular culture. Another one of my favorites is, "All the world's a stage," from As You Like It. Shakespeare really captured humanity. Can't imagine where daytime soaps and nighttime drama would be without him.

  5. Julie – am I that obvious? 🙂 I was a history major/English minor and I love Shakespeare! My current novel is a reimagining of "The Taming of the Shrew." Glad I found you! Maryanne

  6. @Laurel – I think you're so right about the daytime & evening dramas! They owe a lot to the Bard.@Maryanne – You're not that obvious! I checked out your blog. 😉 Glad we've connected!

  7. Hi Julie! This is such an appropriate blog for me today because my daughter's 7th grade class just put on one of Shakespeare's plays. I think it was Othello, but the point is that while watching it, my husband and sister and son and his friends all commented on the fact that we had absolutely NO idea what was going on because we couldn't understand the language! I've read and enjoyed many of his plays and watched Romeo and Juliet and completely understood what they were saying. I think the problem lies in the fact that the young kids were just saying the words by rote and not giving the words any inflection and/or meaning because there was one girl who was excellent and I understood HER. The emotional impact was all it took to get the words and meaning across to the audience.

  8. Interesting post about Shakespeare and language. I never pondered how his sayings color our modern language.Thanks for commenting on my blog – you have another friendly "blog stalker." I'm also looking forward to your Tweets. 🙂

  9. I LOVE Shakespeare. I have a huge, leather bound book of his complete works. My absolute favorite, and I'm sure it's no surprise, is Romeo and Juliet. I can't even tell you how many times I've read it. I'm one of those who finds Shakespeare's language and writing style absolutely beautiful. Back to R&J, the score to the original movie makes me tear up everytime…and the Leo and Clare Danes version in the '90s was genius. I own the movie and the soundtrack.

  10. @Patricia – I totally agree with you. I love to see Shakespeare plays (not read them), but the actors have to get the tone, inflection, and gesturing just so. Othello is one of my faves, though.@M.E. – Welcome! Enjoyed your blog!@Tiffany – My sister was a HUGE R&J fan, quoting lines around the house all the time, and now I know quite a few of them. Leo & Claire were definitely my picks for the best Romeo & Juliet, even though some of the movie was a little off to me.

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