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Eight phrases we owe to William Shakespeare

  • November 9, 2011
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Love is blind
The “blindness” of love is not just a sentiment of English literature; modern research shows that the parts of the brain which control critical thinking are suppressed by feelings of love. Shakespeare used this saying several times, including in The Merchant Of Venice.

I am glad ’tis night, you do not look on me,
For I am much ashamed of my exchange:
But love is blind and lovers cannot see

Knock knock! Who’s there?
In Macbeth, a porter speaks a comic monologue which follows the pattern of “knock knock” jokes, but it is done entirely by the character, with knocking sounds from off-stage. The porter imitates a doorkeeper of hell, welcoming sinners of various occupations.

[Knocking within.] Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty: come in time; have napkins enough about you; here you’ll sweat for ’t.

Green-eyed monster
When not associated with nature/growth, green is often negative and is popularly used to represent sickness and greed. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare used it to indicate envy.

How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy!

The world is my oyster
From The Merry Wives Of Windsor comes this exchange:

I will not lend thee a penny.

Why then the world’s mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open.

Not a penny.

Pistol is threatening to rob Falstaff or another hapless victim at the point of a blade, but society has changed this threat to a declaration that the world is a treasure trove from which you can pluck anything you desire, whenever you wish.

Wild goose chase
A hopeless undertaking, the first recorded use is from Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo: Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I’ll cry a match.

Mercutio: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.

In a pickle
“In a difficult position”, this phrase is from The Tempest.

And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

Break the ice
This phrase appears in The Taming of the Shrew and refers to meeting someone for the first time. Breaking the ice gently unlocks the conversation, such as by asking questions about the other person.

Make your hair stand on end
Fear causes this sensation, and in Hamlet, Shakespeare turned it into one of his most popular sayings.

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

Due to his timeless popularity, the English language is heavily peppered with Shakespearean sayings. Can you think of any?

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