Famous Phrases By Shakespeare

In The United States, we have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare. While many of us dreaded reading his plays in high school due to the sophistication of the language, theatre lovers consider it a privilege to present his works. But without Shakespeare, the English language would not be where it is today because not only did he invent words that we use today, he invented common phrases that are used all the time. Here are some famous phrases that have been attributed to Shakespeare. This is not the same thing as famous quotes such as “star-crossed lovers” or “to be or not to be” or “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” – these are phrases that we use in our everyday vernacular that were first introduced to us by Shakespeare.

Bated Breath – Merchant of Venice

This phrase refers to breathing that is subdued because of some emotion and/or difficulty. Shakespeare used “bated” as an abbreviation for the word “abated” which means to bring down or lower. In 1933, the phrase was featured  in the poem Clever Cruel Cat but was misspelled as “baited.”

Fancy-Free – Midsummer Nights Dream

This phrase describes the feeling of being without any ties or commitment. The word fancy in Tudor England meant “amorous inclination” or in today’s vernacular enormous enthusiasm.

Forever And A Day – The Taming Of The Shrew

This term means exactly as it sounds and cannot actually exist. Forever is ever and therefore you cannot add days to it. Shakespeare used this as a dramatic emphasis.

Good Riddance – Troilus and Cressida

This expression refers to the pleasure of getting rid of something, usually a person. The term “riddance” was first used in a poem Away Mourning in 1525 and simply met getting rid of. Shakespeare coined “good riddance” to describe the positivity that can come from getting rid of something.

In A Pickle – The Tempest 

In a pickle simply refers to being in a difficult situation. The word “pickle” refers to being disoriented or mixed up as the stewed vegetables that were used in original pickles (spicy sauces used to accompany meat). Similar to the phrase “in a jam” where instead of vegetables, it is the fruits that are mixed up and disoriented.

Wild Goose Chase – Romeo and Juliet 

This phrase refers to searching for something but never finding it or pursuing something that is futile. A “wild goose chase” however is not running after a wild goose and chasing it. It refers to a terminology in horse racing where the lead horse is at a set distance which mimics wild geese flying in formation.

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