22 Phrases You Didn't Know Were From Shakespeare

by Charlotte Ahlin

Most people can quote a phrase or two from Shakespeare. If you can find a way to work "To be or not to be" or "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" into your everyday speech, most folks will understand who you're referencing. But some of Shakespeare's most famous quotes are far, far sneakier. In fact, there's a very good chance that you're constantly quoting the Bard without even realizing it. So here are some common phrases invented by Shakespeare.

Shakespeare didn't just write plays and poems, after all. He also invented over 1700 words. Well, OK, we can't know for sure that he actually invented every last one of those words, but he was certainly the first one to ever write them down. So every time you bump your "elbow," or brag about your "swagger," or order your coffee with "skim milk," you're quoting Shakespeare. We owe the "gossip" in Gossip Girl and the "unreal" in UnREAL to Shakespeare. But he wasn't just a wordsmith, either: a lot of the idioms we quote everyday got their start in Shakespeare plays, too.

So now the next time someone is trying to get everything done in "one fell swoop," or complaining that they're "in a pickle," you can be that nerd who lets them know that they're quoting Shakespeare:

1. The beast with two backs

"I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs."

— Iago, Othello

2. Wild goose chase

"Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five. Was I with you there for the goose?"

— Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet

3. In a pickle

"I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last..."

— Trinculo, The Tempest

4. Off with his head

"Off with his head, and set it on York gates; / So York may overlook the town of York."

— Queen Margaret, Henry VI Part III

5. One fell swoop

"What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop?"

— Macduff, Macbeth

6. A heart of gold

“The king’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant.”

Pistol, Henry V

7. The world is my oyster

“Why, then the world ’s mine oyster, / Which I with sword will open.”

Pistol, The Merry Wives of Windsor

8. Knock, knock! Who’s there?

"Knock, knock! Who's there?"

— Porter, Macbeth

9. Good riddance

"A good riddance."

— Patroclus, Troilus and Cressida

10. The green-eyed monster

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on..."

— Iago, Othello

11. Lie low

"If he could right himself with quarreling, / Some of us would lie low."

— Antonio, Much Ado About Nothing

12. Give the Devil his due

"And I will take up that with 'Give the devil his due.'"

— Orleans, Henry IV Part 1

13. Wear your heart on your sleeve

"But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve / For daws to peck at: I am not what I am."

— Iago, Othello

14. Love is blind

"But love is blind and lovers cannot see / The pretty follies that themselves commit..."

— Jessica, The Merchant of Venice

15. The game is afoot

“The game's afoot: follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

— King Henry V, Henry V

16. Too much of a good thing

"Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?"

— Rosalind, As You Like It

17. Break the ice

"If it be so, sir, that you are the man must stead us all, and me amongst the rest, and if you break the ice and do this feat, achieve the elder, set the younger free for our access, whose hap shall be to have her will not so graceless be to be ingrate.”

— Tranio, The Taming of the Shrew

18. With bated breath

"With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this; / 'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last; / You spurn'd me such a day; another time / You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies / I'll lend you thus much moneys'?"

— Shylock, The Merchant of Venice

19. Eaten out of house and home

"He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his..."

— Mistress Quickly, Henry IV Part II

20. Be-all, end-all

"If th' assassination / Could trammel up the consequence, and catch / With his surcease, success: that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all."

— Macbeth, Macbeth

21. A charmed life

"I bear a charmed life, which must not yield, / To one of woman born."

— Macbeth, Macbeth

22. It’s all Greek to me

"Nay, an I tell you that, Ill ne'er look you i' the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me."

— Casca, Julius Caesar

Images: mybookbath/Instagram, Giphy (23)