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Some Shakespeare-Coined Expressions

Shakespeare’s impact on everyday speech is extraordinary. He introduced around 1,700 words and a multitude of phrases to the English language. You probably find yourself quoting him more often than you realize.

“A dish fit for the god” (Julius Caesar) Spoken by Caesar’s murderer Brutus, who described how his father should be elegantly and respectfully killed instead of being butchered.

“All of a sudden” (The Taming of the Shrew) Taken from the context in which how a servant marvels at how his master has fallen in love.

“As luck would have it” (The Merry Wives of Windsor) Taken from the context in which the aspiring seducer is detailing his escape from the adultress’ house in a laundry basket at the arrival of her husband.

“Brevity is the soul of wit” (Hamlet) Cutting to the chase.

“Discretion is the better part of valor” (Henry IV, Part I) Used to explain how the tactic of playing dead on the battlefield has saved one’s life.

“The dogs of war” (Julius Caesar) A vivid image taken from Mark Anthony’s speech in the play predicting the bloody conflict that will follow his friend’s assassination.

“Fair play” (The Tempest) Originates where Mrianda accuses her lover Ferdinand of cheating at chess but admits she doesn’t mind.

“Good riddance” (Troilus and Cressida) The word “riddance” was used more widely in Shakespeare’s time and you could wish someone different kinds of riddance.

“Love is blind” This expression crops up in many plays.

“Wild-goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet) Mercutio uses the phrase to refer to the fact that he and Romeo have been trading witticisms and one-upping each other in turn, a pastime clever, smart-arsed young men still enjoy today.

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