14 Shakespearean Phrases We Still Use Today

Friday, May 313 min read

William Shakespeare has made a much bigger impact in your life than just your high school English class. Universally considered the greatest playwright of all time, his enormous body of work, over 400 years later, continues to influence slang and everyday speech today. Here’s a rundown of popular phrases you didn’t know were borrowed from the Great Shakes.

Lie Low

You may think you're playing it cool, but this common piece of advice comes from the Bard himself. As Antonio in Much Ado About Nothing suggests, “If he could right himself with quarreling, some of us would lie low.”

Green-Eyed Monster

This phrase, referring to jealousy, first popped up in Othello, where envy is the main characters’ undoing. As Othello's frenemy Iago sagely warns: “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Heart of Gold

Before Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” there was Henry V, described by supporting character Pistol as having “a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant.” High praise, indeed.

Fair Play

All’s fair in love and kingdom negotiations, as Miranda in The Tempest notes, “Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle, and I would call it fair play.”

Break the Ice

You can also blame Shakespeare for dreaded ice breaker games. In The Taming of the Shrew, Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) comments, “If it be so, sir, that you are the man must stead us all, and me amongst the rest, and if you break the ice and do this feat, achieve the elder, set the younger free for our access.” In other words, kudos to protagonist Petruchio for breaking the ice to free up the maiden Bianca for the other suitors.

Wild Goose Chase

Inspired by the erratic flying patterns of the bird, a goose chase was a game where riders trained their horses to conduct a series of difficult maneuvers, which others had to copy. Sort of like a game of HORSE, but with actual horses. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio mentions, “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done.” Knowing how things turn out for the Mercutio and the young lovers, it makes sense that this phrase refers to a fruitless and complex (if not tragic) game of pursuit.

It’s All Greek to Me

Not sure what’s going on? Apparently neither did Roman Casca in Julius Caesar, when he said, “But those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.”

Forever and a Day

This phrase is an emphatic declaration of how long Orlando would love Rosalind in As You Like It, although it was originally used in The Taming of the Shrew (published four years earlier) to bid the character of Bianca an exceptionally long farewell.

Good Riddance

Not just a Green Day song – the word "riddance" was used in the 16th century to describe getting rid of something. A good riddance, as spoken by Portia in Merchant of Venice, refers to happily eliminating something from your life. Or as in the play, someone, like the Prince of Morocco.

Kill With Kindness

Modern musicians have found great inspiration in Shakespeare's turns of phrase. Before Selena Gomez crooned about killing 'em with kindness, so did Petruchio when describing his tactics to win over the prickly Katherine with a dollop of “headstrong humor" in Taming of the Shrew.

As Good Luck Would Have It

We’ve since dropped the good, but this idiom about a serendipitous event comes from The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Falstaff mentions meeting Mistress Page and gaining some useful information.

Love Is Blind

Chaucer coined it back in 1405, but Shakespeare popularized this phrase. In The Merchant of Venice, Jessica wistfully explains, “But love is blind, and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that they themselves commit.”

The Game Is Afoot

Speaking of famous misattributions – Shakespeare originated Sherlock Holmes’ most famous catchphrase, not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It pops up in Henry V, spoken by the king himself as part of a motivational battle speech.

Knock, Knock! Who’s There?

Congrats, Shakespeare! You are the father of the knock-knock joke. While used to cheesy effect today, when uttered by the Porter in Macbeth, Shakespeare is demonstrating a deft sense of cleverness.

Daily Question