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.