The Bard may be long gone but his influence on the English language persists hundreds of years after he penned his last work. William Shakespeare created new words and phrases all the time for his plays and poetry, and a lot of them surprisingly still persist today. When we’re not making use of his plot tropes, we’re throwing his quotes and words into our everyday language! Don’t believe me? Read on for 8 popular phrases you probably didn’t know came from Shakespeare.
1. “Off with his head” – Richard III
Lewis Carroll’s feisty character, the Queen of Hearts, might enjoy using this phrase quite liberally in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but she wasn’t actually the first! Shakespeare used this phrase in his play Richard III, and, given the Bard’s penchant for gory, bloody endings, is it really all that surprising that he coined it?
2. “Green-eyed monster” – Othello
You’ve probably heard the phrase “beware of the green-eyed monster”, but never gave much thought to where it came from. Well, Shakespeare came up with the phrase “green-eyed monster” in his play Othello as a way to describe jealousy. Prior to this, the color green was mostly associated with illness. Leave it up to the Bard to turn that idea on its head!
3. “Love is blind” – The Merchant of Venice
Technically, Shakespeare wasn’t the first to use the phrase “love is blind”, but he is the one who made it popular! Chaucer first penned it in The Merchant’s Tale in the 15th century, but it wasn’t until Shakespeare used it in The Merchant of Venice that it stuck. These days we still use the phrase quite a bit, especially when talking about unlikely couples!
4. “The game is afoot” – Henry V
Nothing starts off a good episode or Sherlock for me than hearing Sherlock Holmes say, “The game is afoot”! But even though a lot of us associate the famous phrase with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective, Holmes didn’t actually say it first. It comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V, but I guess both characters do have one thing in common: they tend to come upon dead bodies rather frequently.
5. “Wild goose chase” – Romeo and Juliet
No one likes being sent on a wild goose chase, so we won’t beat around the bush about where this phrase comes from. Shakespeare used it in Romeo and Juliet, and while the phrase might seem a trifle upbeat and humorous for such a tragic tale, it actually doesn’t have anything to do with geese! According to the Oxford Dictionary, a “wild goose chase” was a type of sport in which horse riders would follow the leader like a flight of wild geese. Now you know both where the phrase comes from and what it really means!
6. “Seen better days” – As You Like It
Shakespeare seemed rather fond of this phrase because he used it in not one, but two different plays: As You Like It and Timon of Athens. There is one other recorded use of “seen better days” in a play written in 1590 titled Thomas More, but the author remained anonymous and a lot of people believe that at least part of the play is attributed to Shakespeare himself, which means it’s safe to give the Bard credit for this phrase!
7. “Good riddance” – Troilus and Cressida
Shakespeare was a master of heated language, and there was nothing he loved more than a good verbal feud. The phrase is most often used to indicate good riddance to something bad, irritating, or annoying. If it weren’t for Shakespeare we’d have nothing to shout at terrible roommates, exes, and family members!
8. “Lie low” – Much Ado About Nothing
Long before “lie low” was the go-to advice for mob bosses, criminals, and scandal-ridden celebrities, it was a line in Shakespeare’s endearing Much Ado About Nothing. However, Shakespeare’s wisdom in this case had a very different meaning from how we see it today. Back then, it didn’t actually mean to stay underneath the radar, it was referring to death!
How many of these phrases do you frequently use? Do you know any other Shakespearean phrases that people like to utilize in everyday language? Share your favorites with us in the comments section below!