Every day, many of us English speakers quote William Shakespeare, even if we've never read a word of his plays. And we don't even know we're doing it. Such is the reach of Shakespeare's mastery of language that phrases he coined and popularised have, over the centuries since he was writing, been woven into everyday English vocabulary. They range from the obviously poetic to the seemingly banal, but if it wasn't for Shakespeare, who died 400 years ago this month, we wouldn't be using them at all. Here are some of the verbal tics we owe to the Bard.
"Salad days" - Antony and Cleopatra
This is a phrase where the earliest known usage seems to be Shakespeare - and it comes with a handy definition in the text, too. "My salad days, / When I was green in judgment: cold in blood," says Cleopatra. If only she knew that, years later, her words would form some of the most well-known lyrics of Gold, by Spandau Ballet ("These are my salad days / Slowly being eaten away"). The 1980s owes Shakespeare a great debt, clearly.
"Send him packing" - Henry IV, Part I
"Faith, and I'll send him packing," says Falstaff, linguistic pioneer to the last.
"As good luck would have it" - The Merry Wives of Windsor
Falstaff says: "As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford's approach; and, in her invention and Ford's wife's distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket."
Sadly, we don't know why the phrase "buck-basket" isn't in more common use today.
"More fool you" - The Taming of the Shrew
"The more fool you, for laying on my duty," says Bianca.
"Short shrift" - Richard III
Shrift is an old word for penance. Shakespeare coins the short variety in Richard III: "Dispatch, my lord; the duke would be at dinner / Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head."
"Neither here nor there" - Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor
There is evidence that this turn of phrase was in use well before Shakespeare, but he is likely to have popularised its usage. In Arthur Golding's 1583 translation of John Calvin's sermons, you can find the sentence: "True it is that our so dooing is neither here nor there (as they say) in respect of God."
In The Merry Wives of Windsor, first published in 1602, Mistress Quickly says: "… my master himself is in love with Mistress Anne Page: but notwithstanding that, I know Anne's mind, - that's neither here nor there."
And in Othello, Emilia tries to dismiss Desdemona's concerns by saying, "'Tis neither here nor there."
"Mum's the word" - Henry VI, Part II
Shakespeare didn't coin this phrase, but again, he is the source of an early usage. In the 14th century, the narrative poem Piers Plowman uses a similar expression to mean keeping quiet: "Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles / Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!"
And in 1540, John Palsgrave's translation from Latin of The Comedy of Acolastus uses "mum is counseyle" to advise keeping quiet.
How did Shakespeare use the word "mum" in Henry VI, Part II? Like so: "Seal up your lips and give no words but mum."
"That way madness lies" - King Lear
Lear says: "O, that way madness lies, let me shun that, / no more of that."
"More in sorrow than in anger" - Hamlet
"Hamlet: "What, look'd he frowningly?" Horatio: "A countenance more in sorrow than in anger."
"With bated breath" - The Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare's famous Jewish caricature, Shylock, coins this phrase:
"… Or Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key, With bated breath and whispering humbleness, say this …"
"The green-eyed monster" - Othello
Shakespeare used the idea of a green-eyed monster to suggest jealousy in Othello. It was a phrase the Bard seemed to like, as he also used it in conjunction with envy in The Merchant of Venice: "And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy!"
"Vanish into thin air" - Othello and The Tempest
Shakespeare didn't coin this exact phrase, but he almost did. "Go; vanish into air; away!" says the clown in Othello, while in The Tempest, Prospero says, "… all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air".
"All of a sudden" - The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare's almost-modern use of this phrase is the earliest one we know about: "Is it possible / That love should of a sodaine take such hold?"
"Wild-goose chase" - Romeo and Juliet
Mercutio says this one, and it's a strong contender for a Shakespeare original: "Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done," he says, before repeating the phrase in the next line.
"The be-all and end-all" - Macbeth
This phrase seems to originate in Macbeth. "That but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all", says Macbeth as he is about to murder the king. Spoiler: it's not the be-all and end-all.
"Up in arms" - Henry VI, Part II and Richard III
This expression is related to bearing weaponry - the idea that you can be so aroused or indignant that you might take up arms and go to battle. It was in early use by quite a few writers around Shakespeare's time, including Thomas More, but Shakespeare used it in two of his history plays and he's certainly a contender for its originator in this period.
"Eaten out of house and home" - Henry IV, Part II
Mistress Quickly uses this phrase in Henry IV, Part II: "It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all, all I have. He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his: but I will have some of it out again, or I will ride thee o' nights like the mare."
"Devil incarnate" - Henry V and Titus Andronicus
Shakespeare uses this phrase twice in slightly different ways, but neither is in what you'd call a positive sense:
"Yes, that a' did; and said they were devils incarnate." - Boy, Henry V
"O worthy Goth, this is the incarnate devil / That robb'd Andronicus of his good hand" - Lucius, Titus Andronicus
"Heart of gold" - Henry V
"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
"Foregone conclusion" - Othello
"But this denoted a foregone conclusion: /
'Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream." - Othello
"All that glitters is not gold" - The Merchant of Venice
"All that glitters is not gold; Often have you heard that told" - Prince of Morocco, reading from a scroll.
Shakespeare's qualification "often have you heard that told" after this now-famous phrase suggests this was not an idea he coined entirely himself. In fact, way back in 1380 Geoffrey Chaucer was saying something similar in The House of Fame: "Hit is not al gold, that glareth". However, Shakespeare's specific phrasing is an early example close to the words we commonly use today.