by Curt Kovener
William Shakespeare devised new words and phrases that still appear in our everyday life. Famous quotes from his plays are easily recognizable; “To be or not to be,” “Wherefore art thou, Romeo,” and “et tu, Brute?”. But an incredible number of lines from his plays have become so ingrained into modern vernacular that we no longer recognize them as lines from plays at all. Even if you didn’t pay attention in high school literature class, here are phrases you use but may not have known came from the Bard of Avon.
“Wild Goose Chase” originated from Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene IV and the term didn’t originally refer to actual geese, but rather a type of horse race.
“Seen Better Days” from As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
Shakespeare was a fan of the phrase; he uses “seen better days” in As You Like It, and then again in Timon of Athens.
“Forever and a Day” also from As You Like It, Act IV, Scene I. We have the Bard to thank for this perfect fodder for Valentine’s Day cards and middle school students’ love songs.
“Fair Play” from The Tempest, Act V, Scene I. Prospero’s daughter never would have been able to predict that “fair play” is used more often now in sports than it is for the negotiation of kingdoms.
“Lie Low” originated from Much Ado About Nothing, Act V, Scene I. Shakespeare’s plays contain brilliant wisdom that still applies today. In “lie low,” he concocted the perfect two-word PR advice for every celebrity and politician embroiled in a scandal.
“It’s Greek to Me” from Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II. This phrase might possibly be the most intelligent way of telling someone that you have absolutely no idea what’s going on.
“Love Is Blind” from The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VI. The phrase wasn’t popular until Shakespeare wrote it down. Now, “love is blind” serves as the three-word explanation for any seemingly unlikely couple.
“Be-All, End-All” from Macbeth, Act I, Scene VII. Macbeth uses the phrase just as he’s thinking about assassinating King Duncan and, ironically, as anyone who’s familiar with the play knows, the assassination doesn’t turn out to be the “end all” after all.
“Heart of Gold” originated in Henry V, Act IV, Scene I. Turns out, the phrase “heart of gold” existed before Douglas Adams used it as the name of the first spaceship to use the Infinite Improbability Drive in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Neal Young turned it into a searching song.
“Kill With Kindness” came from The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene 1. Petrucio said “This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, and thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong ways.” The Shakespeare canon would contain a lot fewer dead bodies if his characters all believed they should kill their enemies with kindness instead of knives and poison.
“Live Long Day” from Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene I. The phrase pre-dates steel wheeled travel and is pretty much not exclusively reserved for those who have been working on the railroad.
“The Game is Afoot” came Henry V, Act III, Scene I. It wasn’t Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who coined this phrase—Sherlock Holmes’ most famous catchphrase comes from Henry V, although both characters do often tend to find themselves around dead bodies.
See there? And you thought high school literature was useless.