Phrases from Shakespeare, Part 2

by Kate Woodford
This week we’re looking at a few more of the phrases from the plays of William Shakespeare, (1564 – 1616), that are part of ordinary ‘everyday’ English. Again, some of these phrases were coined (= invented) by Shakespeare. Others, which were already in use when he was writing, were simply made popular by him.

In modern English, It’s all Greek to me is a way of saying that you do not understand something said or written. In Shakespeare’s history play, Julius Caesar, the character of Casca is asked what Cicero said and replies: ‘But, for mine own part, it was Greek to me’. (Cicero had been speaking Greek and Casca didn’t understand Greek.) In modern English, we have simply added the word ‘all’ to the phrase.

Today, something that beggars description is so very good or so very bad that you find it difficult to describe. (A ‘beggar’ is a poor person who asks other people for money and so ‘to beggar’ here means ‘to make someone or something very poor’.) In Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra, Mark Antony’s friend says of Cleopatra’s appearance, For her own person, It beggar’d all description, meaning that Cleopatra’s appearance (‘her own person’) was so beautiful, it made words seem poor and useless.

Continue reading “Phrases from Shakespeare, Part 2”

Phrases from Shakespeare, Part 1

by Kate Woodford
English speakers often repeat lines and expressions from the plays of William Shakespeare, knowing that they are quoting (= saying words by) the famous English writer, (1564 – 1616). However, they also use phrases as part of ordinary ‘everyday’ English without even knowing that they appeared in Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these phrases Shakespeare himself coined (= invented). Others, which were already in use when he was writing, became popular after he included them in his plays.

The phrase a fool’s paradise is used in modern English to mean ‘a situation in which someone is happy because they think they are in a good situation although in fact, the situation is bad’. (A ‘fool’ is a stupid person and ‘paradise’ is a very happy place). This phrase appears in Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet.  The character of Nurse talks to Romeo in order to find out whether he loves Juliet. She warns him not to lead Juliet into a fool’s paradise, meaning that if Romeo does not love Juliet, he should not make her believe that he does.

People sometimes say, ‘All that glitters is not gold’, meaning ‘things which seem at first to be good are sometimes less good when you understand more about them’. (The phrase literally means ‘not everything that shines is gold’. ‘To glitter’ means ‘to shine brightly’.)  This phrase was used in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, although Shakespeare used the old word ‘glister’ instead of ‘glitter’.  This is a theme that we often see in the plays of Shakespeare – the idea that appearances can be false, making you believe things that are not true. Continue reading “Phrases from Shakespeare, Part 1”