45 Everyday Phrases Coined By Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (Pic: AP Images)

William Shakespeare (Pic: AP Images)

April 23rd is generally considered to be a good day to celebrate the birth of England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. This is partly because there are no records of his birth—although he was baptized on April 26—and partly because he died on April 23 (and April 23 is St. George’s day, patron saint of England), so there is a pleasing, almost poetic symmetry about the way the dates line up.

Today is the 450th anniversary of the day Shakespeare was (possibly) born, and in tribute to his astonishing contribution to the English language, it’s time to for a challenge. One that will suit all comers, faint-hearted (1) or not.

Below there are 45 common expressions that were either coined by Shakespeare or popularized by him (at this vertiginous historical remove, it’s hard to be certain what was created and what was pinched from his immediate surroundings). All you have to do, if you truly love the Bard, is work just five of them into your everyday conversations throughout this live-long day (2).

That’s all, just five and then you’ll be fancy free (3). And because brevity is the soul of wit (4), we’ve stuck to the short ones.

The game is afoot (5! See? Easy.):

“All our yesterdays”— (Macbeth)

“As good luck would have it” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“As merry as the day is long” — (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)

“Bated breath” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Be-all and the end-all” — (Macbeth)

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — (Hamlet)

“Brave new world” — (The Tempest)

“Break the ice” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Brevity is the soul of wit” — (Hamlet)

“Refuse to budge an inch” — (Measure for Measure / The Taming of the Shrew)

“Cold comfort” — (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)

“Conscience does make cowards of us all” — (Hamlet)

“Crack of doom” — (Macbeth)

“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)

“A dish fit for the gods” — (Julius Caesar)

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” — (Julius Caesar)

“Devil incarnate” — (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)

“Eaten me out of house and home” — (Henry IV Part II)

“Faint hearted” — (Henry VI Part I)

“Fancy-free” — (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“Forever and a day” — (As You Like It)

“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)

“Foregone conclusion” — (Othello)

“Full circle” — (King Lear)

“The game is afoot” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Give the devil his due” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Good riddance” — (Troilus and Cressida)

“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” — (Othello)

“Heart of gold” — (Henry V)

“Hoist with his own petard” — (Hamlet)

“Ill wind which blows no man to good” — (Henry IV Part II)

“In my heart of hearts” — (Hamlet)

“In my mind’s eye” — (Hamlet)

“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Knock knock! Who’s there?” — (Macbeth)

“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“Live long day” — (Julius Caesar)

“Love is blind” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Milk of human kindness” — (Macbeth)

“More sinned against than sinning” — (King Lear)

“One fell swoop” — (Macbeth)

“Play fast and loose” — (King John)

“Set my teeth on edge” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)

“Wild-goose chase” — (Romeo and Juliet)

See more:
Fraser’s Phrases: “What The Dickens”
10 Old British Slang Terms That Deserve A Revival
Five Tiny U.S. Phrases With Opposite Meanings In The U.K.
10 Irish Slang Terms Americans Should Adopt

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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