You Can Quote More Shakespeare Than You Think(eth)


It’s pretty mind-blowing how much William Shakespeare has influenced our language. He’s been gone about 400 years, but we keep using his expressions. All of the following oft-William Shakespearerepeated phrases come from the Bard of Avon. Some of them have been altered over time, but I bet you recognize most of them. 

  • All that glitters is not gold
  • As (good) luck would have it
  • Bated breath
  • Be-all and end-all
  • Discretion is the better part of valor (Orig: The better part of valor is discretion)
  • Brave new world
  • Brevity is the soul of wit
  • Come what may (Originally: Come what come may)
  • Crack of doom
  • Dead as a doornail
  • Devil incarnate
  • Eaten me out of house and home
  • Elbow room
  • Fool’s paradise
  • Forever and a day
  • For goodness’ sake
  • Foregone conclusion
  • The game is up
  • Give the devil his due
  • Good riddance
  • It was (all) Greek to me
  • Heart of gold
  • Hoist with his own petard
  • Household words
  • My kingdom for a horse!
  • In a pickle
  • In my mind’s eye
  • Kill (someone) with kindness
  • Killing frost
  • Knock, Knock! Who’s there?
  • Laughing stock
  • Lie low
  • Love is blind
  • Melted into thin air
  • There’s a method to my madness (Originally: Though this be madness, yet there is method in it)
  • Milk of human kindness
  • Naked truth
  • Neither rhyme nor reason
  • Not slept one wink
  • One fell swoop
  • Out of the jaws of death
  • Own flesh and blood
  • Parting is such sweet sorrow
  • A piece of work
  • A plague on both your houses
  • Play fast and loose
  • Pomp and circumstance
  • Pound of flesh
  • Primrose path
  • Make short shrift
  • Sick at heart
  • A sorry sight
  • Spotless reputation
  • Still waters run deep (Originally: Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep)
  • A twice-told tale
  • Set my teeth on edge
  • Tell the truth and shame the devil
  • There’s the rub
  • To thine own self be true
  • Too much of a good thing
  • Tower of strength
  • Wear my heart upon my sleeve
  • What the dickens
  • What’s done is done
  • Wild-goose chase
  • Working-day world
  • The world’s my oyster
  • Yeoman’s service

How many times have you used these expressions, or heard them used? How many did you know originated with Shakespeare? Can you identify the works from which they come? Any of them?


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko10-12-2011

    Great comment, Fred! I’m wondering what words you’ve coined!

  2. Frederic Durbin
    Frederic Durbin10-12-2011

    The statistic I’ve encountered here and there is that Shakespeare created about 8.5% of the words he used. Isn’t that amazing? A part of that fact, I’m assuming, is that Shakespeare’s is the first documented use of many of those words. But whether he was making up the words or simply had the literary momentum to get them into print and make them stick, it’s still really something.

    A humorous side note is that we writers of fantasy fiction tend to make up words, too, so hearing that about Shakespeare makes us happy. We feel like we’re carrying on a grand tradition in the best of company. All I can say is, Shakespeare is lucky he didn’t have a spell-checker on his computer, because under the onslaught of “fire-new words,” it would have been beeping at him non-stop!

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