Happy 450th birthday William Shakespeare. Your plays are still the pinnacle, your poetry among the finest and many phrases you coined are still in wide usage. There is just no escaping the Bard. His influence on the English language has stood the test of time thus far, with little sign of relenting.
Echelons of British culture aside, even those who "don't do Shakespeare" speak his words in their daily lives. Most of us will have quoted the playwright thousands of times without knowing it.
Ever been "in a pickle" or had "too much of a good thing"? Perhaps friends have "eaten (you) out of house and home" or had you "in stitches" over a joke.
These are just a handful of well-used sayings that come courtesy of Shakespeare (see below for more).
"The be-all and end-all"
Meaning "the whole thing" or "the last word". Shakespeare coined this well-used phrase in his 1605 tragedy Macbeth. Macbeth says this while contemplating murdering King Duncan to take the throne: "That but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all." Of course the murder is far from the "end-all" as the play turns out...
"A sorry sight"
Meaning "regrettable and unwelcome" or someone of untidy appearance. First used in Macbeth by Shakespeare's titular tragic hero when he looks at his hands. "A foolish thought to say a sorry sight" replies Lady Macbeth.
Said by Miranda in 1610's The Tempest among others: "Yes for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle / And I would call it fair play." The phrase has since turned into "fair dinkum" and "fair go" in Australia. Widely used to mean fairness and justice in a variety of contexts.
Most people have used this phrase to express joy or relief when an annoyance disappears. Back in Shakespeare's day "riddance" meant "deliverance from" or "getting rid of" but it is now only rarely used outside of the saying. Portia wishes the Prince of Morocco "a gentle riddance" in The Merchant of Venice but it is thought to have been used before that.
"In a pickle"
Meaning "in a difficult position". There were various references to pickles in the late 16th century but Shakespeare was one of the first to use "in a pickle" in The Tempest. Trinculo says: "I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last."
It is often not clear whether a word or phrase was already in existence in Shakespeare's lifetime or if he invented it. Regardless, his plays often provide us with the earliest use of many.
More words and phrases coined by the Bard
- "For goodness sake" - Henry VIII
- "Neither here not there" - Othello
- "Mum's the word" - Henry VI, Part II
- "Eaten out of house and home" - Henry IV, Part II
- "Rant" - Hamlet
- "Knock knock! Who's there?" - Macbeth
- "All's well that ends well" - All's Well That Ends Well
- "With bated breath" - The Merchant of Venice
- "A wild goose chase" - Romeo and Juliet
- "Assassination" - Macbeth
- "Too much of a good thing" - As You Like It
- "A heart of gold" - Henry V
- "Such stuff as dreams are made on" - The Tempest
- "Fashionable" - Troilus and Cressida
- "What the dickens" - The Merry Wives of Windsor
- "Puking" - As You Like It
- "Lie low" - Much Ado About Nothing
- "Dead as a doornail" - Henry VI, Part II
- "Not slept one wink" - Cymbeline
- "Foregone conclusion" - Othello
- "The world's mine oyster" - The Merry Wives of Windsor
- "Obscene" - Love's Labour's Lost
- "Bedazzled" - The Taming of the Shrew
- "In stitches" - Twelfth Night
- "Addiction" - Othello
- "Naked truth" - Love's Labour's Lost
- "Faint-hearted" - Henry VI, Part I
- "Send him packing" - Henry IV
- "Vanish into thin air" - Othello
- "Swagger" - Henry V
- "Own flesh and blood" - Hamlet
- "Truth will out" - The Merchant of Venice
- "Zany" - Love's Labour's Lost
- "Give the devil his due" - Henry IV, Part I
- "There's method in my madness" - Hamlet
- "Salad days" - Antony and Cleopatra
- "Wear your heart on your sleeve" - Othello
- "Spotless reputation" - Richard II
- "Full circle" - King Lear
- "There's the rub" - Hamlet
- "All of a sudden" - The Taming of the Shrew
- "Come what, come may" - Macbeth