SparkNotes Blog

20 Super-Common Phrases That Shakespeare Pretty Much Invented

It turns out Shakespeare essentially invented the entire English language; before him, we probably just communicated in grunts and frustrated hand signals. The Bard invented hundreds of phrases that are now used every day; here are a few of our personal faves.

1. All that glitters is not gold From The Merchant of Venice. Oddly, the next line is, Often have you heard that told,” even though it was the first time the expression was used, ever!

2. All’s well that ends well – From the play by the same title. All’s well that ends well—unless you’re Bertram and you’re married off against your will.

3. Bated breath The Merchant of Venice. As in, “I’m waiting with bated breath for the Black Panther movie, which will surely be the best film of this, or any, century.”

4. Be-all and end-all Macbeth. Shakespeare is the be-all and end-all of creating phrases.

5. Brave new world – The Tempest. His titles have become expressions and his expressions have become titles.

6. Break the ice – The Taming of the Shrew. In fact, here Shakespeare didn’t just mean a way to get the convo flowing. In the play, Tranio is also saying that Katherine is a bit of an ice queen.

7. Brevity is the soul of wit Hamlet. Though, by that logic, “brevity = wit” would have been better.

8. Dead as a doornail – Henry VI. Such a common expression; so much so that I can safely say the only thing I actually know about these mysterious doornails is that they are very dead.

9. Fancy-free – Midsummer Night’s Dream. The footloose wasn’t added until much later.

10. Forever and a day – As You Like It. It makes no sense, but I like it!

11. For goodness’ sake – Henry VIII. Such a flexible phrase: you can substitute in “goodness” for all types of words.

12. Jealousy is the green-eyed monster Othello. What an expression! I think we should use the full quote and add on the, “which doth mock the meat it feeds on,” for further dramatic effect. Good to use the next time your male friend’s gf is giving you side-eye.

13. In a pickle – The Tempest. I didn’t even know they had pickles back then. Well, good for them.

14. In my heart of hearts & In my mind’s eyeHamlet. William Shakespeare, a man who never read an anatomy book.

15. Kill with kindness – Taming of the Shrew. William Shakespeare, a man who also doesn’t know how kindness works.

16. Knock knock! Who’s there? Macbeth. Apparently, every knock knock joke ever told was actually written by Shakespeare. Jeez, the guy is PROLIFIC.

17. Laugh yourself into stitches – Twelfth Night. Which became “in stitches laughing.” I thought brevity was the soul of wit, Billy?

18. Love is blind – Merchant of Venice. Another classic. “Love is blind and lovers cannot see!” Ah, the romance of mutual dependence.

19. Into thin air – The Tempest. Disappearing into air was already a thing, Shakespeare just brings the skinny.

20. Own flesh and blood Hamlet. It’s gruesome, but it’s catchy.