The King of the Catchphrase

“Good riddance.”

“Love is blind.”

“Heart of hearts.”

“Laughing stock.”

“Green eyed monster.”

“Break the ice.”

via Wikipedia

What in the world do any of these phrases have to do with the others? Well, if you’re familiar with the tales of Romeo and Juliet, Prince Hamlet, King Lear or Julius Caesar, you can probably guess.

All of these phrases, and many, many more, that are common in our everyday use are attributed to perhaps the most influential figure in the English language. That’s right, The Bard, William Shakespeare.

Though there have been plenty of influential writers throughout the history English as a written language, it is probably safe to say that there has been no one more important than Shakespeare in changing the way we use words. His writing was so innovative and has been so enduring and pervasive that it has worked its way into every crack and crevice of our communication. Shakespeare’s fingerprints are all over our idioms and figures of speech.

I’d venture to say that on an average day, I use at least one phrase that can be attributed to Shakespeare, and I probably don’t even realize it. And, let’s be honest, who among us can resist finishing the phrase, “to be or not to be…?”

Of course, Shakespeare’s words themselves aren’t the only reason we owe so much to The Bard. Ever seen 10 Things I Hate About You? Or West Side Story? What about She’s the Man? If so, then you’ve seen a modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s works. His plays lend themselves to being reworked and retold, making them perpetually relevant and familiar. It’s a great example of how media influences media, and in doing so, influences us, and specifically in our case, influences the way we speak.

Need more proof of the presence of Shakespeare in the way we talk to each other? His words will be more convincing than mine, so I’ll let them do the talking; here are a few more of my favorite common phrases taken from the pages of Shakespeare’s works:

  • “Eaten out of house and home.” — King Henry IV, Part II
  • “In my mind’s eye.” –Hamlet
  • “Too much of a good thing.” –As You Like It
  • “The world’s my oyster.” –The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • “It was Greek to me.” –Julius Caesar
  • “What’s done is done.” –Macbeth
  • “A charmed life.” –Macbeth
  • “Neither here nor there.” –Othello
  • “The stuff dreams are made of.” –The Tempest

For a more complete list, see a list of Shakespeare quotes.

Take a look at some of his words in action. Here, David Tennant shares a few famous phrases in Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy:

When was the last time you unknowingly used one of Shakespeare’s famous phrases? Which is your favorite expression taken from his works? Are there any that your were especially surprised to find came from The Bard?


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