8 Common Phrases We Actually Got From Shakespeare

8 Common Phrases We Actually Got From Shakespeare

In this post, we look at sayings invented by Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare was one of the world’s most influential writers.

A master of clever plots, Shakespeare was also great at turns of phrase. Hundreds of words and sayings started with Shakespeare’s inventive work.

He invented many phrases we use, and just as many were insults. Most writers, at some point, type a Shakespearean phrase.

Here are eight common phrases we actually got from Shakespeare. 

8 Common Phrases We Actually Got From Shakespeare

1. A Laughing Stock

The Merry Wives Of Windsor
‘Pray you let us not be laughing-stocks to other men’s humours; I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends.’

A laughing stock is someone (or something) laughed at by others.

The phrase is used by Evans, who asks for an alliance with Caius. Evans says that he hopes they will not be judged, or be laughing stocks, for their next move.

2. A Sorry Sight


‘This is a sorry sight.’ 

Macbeth is also called The Scottish Play. It’s the play you can’t name when you’re in it, according to an acting superstition.

Macbeth speaks to Lady Macbeth with this phrase. When he says it, he looks down at his hands, which are covered in blood. Guilt and murder: Macbeth says that the blood is a sorry sight.

A sorry sight is something that is unpleasant or sad to look at. 

3. Break The Ice

The Taming Of The Shrew

 ‘And if you break the ice, and do this feat. Achieve the elder, set the younger free.’

‘Break the ice’ comes from The Taming Of The Shrew, where Tranio says it first.

Breaking the ice is used as a metaphor for first impressions, which can lean on ‘ice cold’ as a description for atmosphere or tone.

When something ‘breaks the ice’, it makes a good first impression (from an awkward situation). 

4. What The Dickens

The Merry Wives Of Windsor

‘I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of.’
‘What the dickens?’ comes from The Merry Wives Of Windsor. It’s said by Mistress Page, as a replacement for a common swear word of the time: devil. 

‘Devil’ and ‘devilkins’ were inappropriate things to say for a lady. Therefore, Shakespeare replaced the term with dickens. 

It’s the same as saying ‘oh, fiddlesticks!’ when you ram a foot into the desk.

It’s not always what you mean to say, but it’s the polite version.

5. Green-Eyed Monster


‘It is the green eyed monster which doth mock.’

Shakespeare uses the phrase twice, in The Merchant Of Venice and Othello.

Iago says it to Othello, to make Othello believe his wife is having an affair. When Othello doesn’t buy it, Iago brings up the familiar ‘green-eyed monster’ we all know.

‘Green’ had associations with envy before this. Shakespeare just made it more popular. 

6. In A Pickle

The Tempest 

‘How camest thou in this pickle?’ 

The phrase ‘in a pickle’ means to be in trouble or hot water, though didn’t mean this yet in The Tempest.

‘In a pickle’ is said between King Alonso and Trinculo, his appointed fool. The phrase doesn’t mean trouble, though implies it. ‘Pickle’ was slang for being drunk.

Older use of the phrase implied that the jester was drinking on the job, thus trouble. 

7. In Stitches

Twelfth Night

‘If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into stitches, follow me.’
The phrase ‘in stitches’ comes from Twelfth Night.

Said by Mary, the phrase implies laughter (and tells us more about surgery in Shakespeare’s time than anyone wants to know). 

While the phrase is gross, it is common today.

8. Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve


The idea to wear your heart on your sleeve comes from Othello, again said by the character, Iago.

It seems almost weird today, but the idiom makes sense for the time in which it was written. It refers to jousting armour, which would show a knight’s loyalty from far away. 

If you wear your heart on your sleeve, your feelings are out in the open (or your honesty is obvious).

The Last Word

In this post, we looked at eight phrases that were used by Shakespeare. We hope you enjoyed them.

Source for image: Attributed to John Taylor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare.jpg

By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:

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Posted on: 11th November 2022