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The Bard's Lexicon: Words Coined by Shakespeare

Legendary playwright William Shakespeare is said to have had an extensive vocabulary, and yet, in many cases, it wasn't enough to convey his thoughts on paper. Often, he played with words to form new ones, and he also was the first to write down many words that hadn't previously been recorded. In addition, his clever wordplay led him to coin many expressions that endure in the English language to this day. While Shakespeare's contributions to the history of English literature are well-known, his numerous contributions to how we speak every day are much less commonly recognized.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold: In Act 2 of The Merchant of Venice, Portia's father says that she must marry the man who correctly chooses a casket holding her picture. The prince of Morocco chooses a glittery gold casket, and inside is a note that includes this famous line.

All's Well That Ends Well: This phrase simply means that a happy ending can overshadow any bad things that came before it. This is the title of one of Shakespeare's plays.

Bated Breath: When breathing is halted due to emotion or anticipation. This phrase appears in a line uttered by Shylock in Act 1 of The Merchant of Venice.

Be-All and the End-All: The whole thing that supplies an ending. The title character utters this phrase as he considers killing King Duncan and assuming the throne himself in Act 1 of Macbeth.

Brave New World: The character of Miranda in The Tempest led a sheltered life on a remote island until a shipwreck brought a boat full of men and new experiences. She referred to it in Act 5 as a "brave new world."

Break the Ice: To overcome awkwardness or silence. Tranio hopes that Petruchio will break the ice with Katherine in Act 1 of The Taming of the Shrew.

Fight Fire With Fire: To use tactics similar to those used against you. In Act 5 of King John, this phrase is used to motivate the king.

Good Riddance: An expression meaning that you are happy to done with something or someone. This phrase appears in Act 2 of Troilus and Cressida.

Greek to Me: This phrase means that something is incomprehensible, and it is uttered by Casca in Act 1 of Julius Caesar as he reports on something said by Cicero; Casca quite literally could not understand what was being said because he did not understand Greek.

Green-Eyed Monster: In Act 3 of Othello, Iago uses this synonym for "jealousy."

Heart of Gold: A kind, honorable person. The phrase is used in reference to the king in Act 4 of Henry V.

In a Pickle: Today, this phrase means "in a difficult situation," but its original use in Act 5 of The Tempest referred to trouble resulting from having too much to drink.

Laughing Stock: Someone who is ridiculed. This phrase appears in Act 3 of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Love is Blind: This expression, which means that love isn't always logical or rational, is used in Act 2 of The Merchant of Venice.

Method to His Madness: The original wording of this phrase from Act 2 of Hamlet is, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't." It means that even though someone's behavior may be strange, they know what they're doing.

Naked Truth: The complete, unvarnished truth. Shakespeare penned this phrase in Act 5 of Love's Labour's Lost as a play on words, as the character who says it, Armando, tells the naked truth that he's not wearing a shirt.

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve: This phrase means to show emotion openly. The first recorded instance of the phrase is in Act 1 of Othello, though it probably dates back to the Middle Ages when knights would wear tokens from loved ones on the sleeves of their armor.

Wild Goose Chase: An arduous search for something that doesn't exist or can't be found. Mercutio uses this phrase in a playful conversation with Romeo during Act 2 of Romeo and Juliet.

The World Is Your Oyster: This metaphor, phrased as "the world's mine oyster" in Act 2 of The Merry Wives of Windsor, means that you're in a position to get whatever you want out of life.

Further Reading