We’ve all heard the phrase ‘let’s break the ice’ when being introduced to a new group of people. Or shrugging off an incident with ‘what is done is done.’ But did you know that these, and many more, phrases were invented by the bard William Shakespeare himself? Here are some of them and their origin;
‘Wear my heart upon my sleeve’
Meaning to be completely truthful and vulnerable, the phrase was used by Iago during Shakespeare’s play Othello. The villain says:
‘But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.’
(Othello, Act 1, Scene 1, 64-65)
‘In a Pickle’
By far one of the more bizarre phrases, a variation of the phrase is used in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A jester named Trinculo is asked, ‘How came’t thou in this pickle?’
To which he replies ‘I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last […]’. In this context, Trinculo was very drunk, making his body so preserved with alcohol that his body will not be eaten by maggots and decay when he dies.
‘Break the ice’
The metaphor of ‘break the ice’ made its first appearance in ’The Taming of the Shrew’ (Act 1, Scene 2).
In this context, a character called Tranio is trying to court the ice cold Katherine, and suggests breaking the ice and getting to know her father first. Katherine’s icy demeanour could also play along with the metaphor.
‘What’s done is done’
Lady Macbeth, in trying to calm her husband says;
’Things without all remedy
Should be without regard; what’s done is done.’
Here, Lady Macbeth is telling her husband to pay no attention to deeds already done and which cannot be changed. Therefore, worrying about them would be of no use. When she herself however succumbs to dreams of guilt, she repeats ‘what’s done cannot be undone’ as she sleepwalks.
‘All that glitters is not gold’
This saying comes from a line from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ read from a note in Act 2, Scene 7. The full quote requires some in depth explanation. When young Portia’s father dies, he creates a test which all suitors will have to go through should they desire her hand in marriage. The men have to choose from three caskets which contain Portia’s picture – with one made of gold, one silver and the last of base lead. The first suitor picks the golden one, but fails the test, finding instead a rejection letter with the ‘glitters’ quote along with a skull.
Fair play was allegedly one of Shakespeare’s favourite idioms as one can find it in three different plays. We can find the phrase in The Tempest, King John and Troilus and Cressida. In the last, Troilus complains that, during the Trojan War to save their homeland, ‘fair play’ is ‘fool’s play’, indicating the requirement of being cunning and finding an unfair advantage.
‘Wild Goose Chase’
For the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ fans out there, the phrase Wild Goose Chase makes its appearance in this romantic tragedy. The phrase pops up in a battle of wits, but the meaning is not used exactly as it used nowadays. It actually refers to a horse racing practice popular in Elizabethan England wherein horsemen followed a lead horse which, from a distance, would look like wild geese flying in formation.