Shakespeare and the Modern World: Phrases the Playwright Invented


William Shakespeare was one of the most prolific and popular playwrights of his era.

Over the centuries, his works have proved enduringly influential.

Many individuals are unaware that Shakespeare actually coined many of the

most popular phrases in today’s common vernacular.

You may even quote Shakespeare everyday in your day-to-day life and never realize it.

Here is a moderately-sized sample of terms and phrases that Shakespeare invented:

• All that glisters [glitters] is not gold – The Merchant of Venice

• All’s well that ends well – All’s Well That Ends Well

• As good luck would have it -The Merry Wives of Windsor

• Bated breath – The Merchant of Venice

• Be-all and the end-all – Macbeth

• Better foot before [Best foot forward] – King John

• 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 & Taming of the Shrew

• Cold comfort – The Taming of the Shrew & King John

• Dead as a doornail – Henry VI, Part 2

• A dish fit for the gods – Julius Caesar

• Devil incarnate – Titus Andronicus & Henry V

• Eaten me out of house and home – Henry IV, Part 2

• Faint hearted – Henry VI, Part 1

• Fair play – The Tempest

• Forever and a day – As You Like It

• For goodness’ sake – Henry VIII

• Foregone conclusion – Othello

• Full circle – King Lear

• The game is up – Cymbeline

• Give the devil his due – I Henry IV

• Good riddance – Troilus and Cressida

• Jealousy is the green-eyed monster – Othello

• It was Greek to me – Julius Caesar

• Heart of gold – Henry V

• ‘Tis high time – The Comedy of Errors

• Improbable fiction – Twelfth Night

• In a pickle – The Tempest

• In my heart of hearts – Hamlet

• In my mind’s eye – Hamlet

• Kill with kindness – Taming of the Shrew

• Knit brow -The Rape of Lucrece

• Knock knock! Who’s there? – Macbeth

• Laughing stock -The Merry Wives of Windsor

• Laugh yourself into stitches – Twelfth Night

• Lean and hungry look – Julius Caesar

• Lie low – Much Ado about Nothing

• Love is blind – Merchant of Venice

• Melted into thin air – The Tempest

• Though this be madness, yet there is method in it [There's a method to my madness] – Hamlet

• Neither here nor there – Othello

• One fell swoop – Macbeth

• Out of the jaws of death – Twelfth Night

• Own flesh and blood – Hamlet

• Play fast and loose – King John

• Pound of flesh – The Merchant of Venice

• Snail paced – Troilus and Cressida

• Something wicked this way comes – Macbeth

• Spotless reputation – Richard II

• Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep [Still waters run deep] – Henry VI, Part 2

• Too much of a good thing – As You Like It

• Vanish into thin air – Othello

• Wear my heart upon my sleeve – Othello

• What’s done is done – Macbeth

• Wild-goose chase – Romeo and Juliet

• The world’s my oyster – Merry Wives of Windsor

As is evidences, Shakespeare had a huge influence on the development of the English language. Not only did he coin many of his own phrases, but he also created a number of words that are still extremely popular today. His literary works and invented words and phrases are so ingrained in the public consciousness, that it’s hard to imagine the modern English language without Shakespeare’s contributions.