SHAKESPEARE INVENTED & PRESERVED THOUSANDS OF ENGLISH PHRASES

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is one of the most famous and influential English writers. He wrote dozens of plays and poems. But he also introduced thousands of words and phrases into the English language which are still popular today. However, today many people believe that Shakespeare may not have invented some of these words and phrases, but rather his works are the first time the words were actually written down. This does not discount the fact, however, that Shakespeare was a master of English and a huge influence on the language lasting until today.

Below are many phrases from Shakespeare. Below that list are many words we got from Shakespeare. Have a question about any of them? Just ask us!!

Phrases from Shakespeare we still use in everyday communication

  • “It’s Greek to me” (Julius Caesar) – When you say, “it’s Greek to me” you are admitting that you do not know or understand something.
  • “Fair play” (The Tempest) – Follow the rules, especially in competitions or sports.
  • “All that glitters isn’t gold” (Merchant of Venice) – We usually use this phrase after we discover the fact that something that looks good turns out not to be that great.
  • “Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve” (Othello) – To be a hopeless romantic (or be open and honest about how you feel) is to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.
  • “Break the ice” (The Taming of the Shrew) – Often when you meet someone for the first time, you “break the ice” by asking them polite questions about themselves.
  • “The lady doth protest too much” (Hamlet) – If someone denies something more than once, you can say “the lady doth protest too much,” meaning you think that they feel the opposite to what they are saying.
  • “Clothes make the man” (Hamlet) – Although not always true, this phrase implies that how a person dresses tells you something about who they are as a person.
  • “A laughing stock” (The Merry Wives of Windsor) – To be a laughing stock is to be considered a joke by many people.
  • “Too much of a good thing” (As You Like It) – It is said that “too much of a good thing” (i.e. money, love, food) is not necessarily good for you.
  • “In a pickle” (The Tempest) – To be “in a pickle” is to be in trouble or a situation that you cannot easily get out of.

More Phrases

“All our yesterdays”— (Macbeth)

“As good luck would have it” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“As merry as the day is long” — (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)

“Bated breath” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Be-all and the end-all” — (Macbeth)

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — (Hamlet)

“Brave new world” — (The Tempest)

“Break the ice” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Brevity is the soul of wit” — (Hamlet)

“Refuse to budge an inch” — (Measure for Measure / The Taming of the Shrew)

“Cold comfort” — (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)

“Conscience does make cowards of us all” — (Hamlet)

“Crack of doom” — (Macbeth)

“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)

“A dish fit for the gods” — (Julius Caesar)

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” — (Julius Caesar)

“Devil incarnate” — (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)

“Eaten me out of house and home” — (Henry IV Part II)

“Faint hearted” — (Henry VI Part I)

“Fancy-free” — (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“Forever and a day” — (As You Like It)

“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)

“Foregone conclusion” — (Othello)

“Full circle” — (King Lear)

“The game is afoot” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Give the devil his due” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Good riddance” — (Troilus and Cressida)

“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” — (Othello)

“Heart of gold” — (Henry V)

“Hoist with his own petard” — (Hamlet)

“Ill wind which blows no man to good” — (Henry IV Part II)

“In my heart of hearts” — (Hamlet)

“In my mind’s eye” — (Hamlet)

“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Knock knock! Who’s there?” — (Macbeth)

“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“Live long day” — (Julius Caesar)

“Love is blind” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Milk of human kindness” — (Macbeth)

“More sinned against than sinning” — (King Lear)

“One fell swoop” — (Macbeth)

“Play fast and loose” — (King John)

“Set my teeth on edge” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)

“Wild-goose chase” — (Romeo and Juliet)

Words that come from Shakespeare

Here are some common words that first appeared in Shakespeare’s plays and their meanings:

Auspicious – favorable; promising success; a good omen. A wedding is an example of an auspicious occasion.

Baseless – without a foundation; not based on fact. If you accuse someone of wrongdoing, make sure that you have support to back up your claim and it is not a baseless accusation.

Barefaced – shameless; without concealment or disguise. When someone tells a ‘barefaced lie’ it is not a very good one and you immediately know it is not true.

Castigate – to punish harshly. Sometimes celebrities and politicians are castigated in the press more harshly than ordinary citizens.

Clangor – a loud (clanging) sound. Ghosts are sometimes said to be followed by the loud clangor of chains.

Dexterously – skillful, especially in the use of one’s hands (or also one’s mind). A good carpenter can dexterously build a bookshelf very easily.

Dwindle – to get smaller; diminish. Often used to describe money. Many people’s savings dwindle after losing a job.

Multitudinous – a lot; a great number. You are in luck if you can say that you have a multitudinous amount of friends.

Sanctimonious – pretending to be very religious or righteous. Sometimes people who judge others harshly are sanctimonious.

Watchdog – a person or group that keeps close watch to discover wrong or illegal activity. A popular watchdog group is PETA, which exposes wrongful actions against animals.

Business Idioms are Fun and Useful

English is well-known for being a very idiomatic language with lots of old expressions and new ones being born all the time.

Let’s take two quick examples and at the bottom we’ll provide links to some good sites.

Cash cow: A cash cow is a product which has a low investment cost for the company but easily brings in a lot of money. Sometimes people say slot machines at casinos are a type of cash cow.

Go back to square one: This is an expression which means to start over from the beginning. Example: After weeks of negotiations everything fell apart and we couldn’t come to an agreement. We’ll just have to go back to square one.

There are many business idiom sites out there. All of these looked good to us:

http://www.idiomconnection.com/business.html (has free quizzes too)

http://www.businessenglishresources.com/31-2/student-section/business-vocabulary/most-common-business-idioms/

http://www.learn-english-today.com/idioms/idiom-categories/business-work/bus-work1-ace-bricks.html

ACADEMIC WORDS YOU NEED TO KNOW (TOEFL, COLLEGE, SAT, etc.)

How can you know which words are the most important in a language? One way linguists find this out is by taking large samples of language and storing that in a computer database. They can run tests and analyses on the data, such as finding the most common and least common words in a language. This is called corpus linguistics.

More recently, some researchers have looked at written and spoken academic language to find the most common words used at the college level. This list is called the Academic Word List, or AWL. If you are preparing for college in the U.S. or some type of college entrance test (including the TOEFL), these words are essential to learn.

There are many websites that use the AWL and provide exercises to learn these words. Here are just a couple examples that you may find helpful:

http://www.uefap.com/vocab/select/awl.htm

http://www.englishvocabularyexercises.com/AWL/

OVERVIEW OF AMERICAN CULTURE – LANGUAGE, CULTURE, CUSTOMS, ETIQUETTE

The following short article gives a good summary of American culture, with attention to details that are helpful for international tourists, students, and business people — like business meetings, dining (eating) etiquette, gift giving, etc.

http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/usa.html

Do you have any questions about American culture? Just post to our FB page and we’ll be happy to answer!

What Does “Don’t Give Up the Day Job” Mean?

Sometimes someone wants to show off a certain new skill or joke. But what if that skill is not very impressive, or the joke is not very good? Or what if it is a little impressive, but not enough for that person to really boast about? We might say to that person: “Well, don’t give up your day job.” It means, whatever you just said or did, it wasn’t good enough to be a professional!

It may sound like it is a rude comment, but actually most Americans just think it’s a slightly funny comment.

In the case of this cartoon, this spider’s joke isn’t funny enough to make the man laugh. He even says, “Don’t quit your day job.” It means, just keep being a spider. Don’t try to be a comedian because you’re not that funny!!

What does it mean to be “mad as a March hare?”

We are already into the month of March! Before you know it, the weather will be sunny and beautiful again here in Duluth, just outside the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

Next week, we also start a new session of English classes. Good things are happening!

There is an expression in English — it is not necessarily very common — but it is funny, which goes: mad as a March hare. This expression may be 500 years old or even older. In this case, mad doesn’t mean “angry.” It means, silly, crazy, wild, ridiculous. 

Now, what is a March hare? A hare is a wild animal very similar in appearance to a rabbit.

This is a hare:

In March, the weather is warming up and hares become more active socially, physically, etc.. In England, the frantic behavior of hares in the early spring led to the expression “mad as a March hare,” and we can apply this expression to a person to indicate that they are acting extremely silly, ridiculous, or insane. Someone who is mad as a March hare might look like this:

Of course, in the U.S., use of phrases and idioms is extremely common in everyday speech. So, if you have a friend who is being strange or absurd, it’s okay to ask them: “You are mad as a March hare, aren’t you?

USING FLASHCARDS FOR VOCABULARY ACQUISITION

Do you need to learn new words in English, maybe for a test (like TOEFL, GRE, GMAT) or because you just want to improve your vocabulary?

One effective way is to self-study using flashcards as a starting point. (Eventually you want to try writing these words in sentences and even use them in real life.)

What is great about flashcards is that you can decide what information you want. It could simply be a word (on side 1) and a simple definition (on side 2), either in English and/or your native language. Often, pictures work better than definitions. Look at Google Images to give you ideas. Other types of info you may want to include are: pronunciation; part of speech (e.g. verb, noun, adjective, etc,); synonyms & antonyms; example sentences; and more.

Try starting with ten new words. Look at the word and the information several times for a few days. Then look at the definition. Can you guess the word? Or try looking at the word and see if you can provide the definition. Constantly review old words and keep adding new ones.

Again, you can do this alone, or even with a partner who can motivate you, help you, or correct you.

Want more advice from us? Just ask!!