9 Everyday Phrases That Come From Poetry
Think poetry has nothing to do with you? Actually you recite poems all the time through the vocab, expressions, and common idioms you use every day. Chaucer was the original "Twitter" user, Shakespeare the first person with "swagger," and Homer's characters "bit the dust" before anyone Queen had in mind. The etymology of a word - that's the history of its form and meaning - is far more interesting than you might expect.
Though which came first, the idiom or the poem, is often tough to track, there are more than a few that come directly from the poet who coined them. Our day-to-day drawl is crammed with metaphysical verse, Romantic waxings, and classical allusions that make us all poetry fans - whether we know it or not.
Click through for 10 everyday words and phrases that come from poetry!
The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
"Bite the Dust": From The Illiad - "Grant that my sword may pierce the shirt of Hector about his heart, and that full many of his comrades may bite the dust as they fall dying round him." This is Samuel Butler’s 19th century English translation of The Illiad, thus whether the phrase is more his or Homer's is up for debate.
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The Complete English Poems (Penguin Classics)
"No man is an island": Metaphysical poet John Donne coined this one in "Meditation XVII," a poem from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624). It starts: "No man is an island entire of itself; every man / is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." It ends with another line you might know: "And therefore never send to know for whom / the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." That's a two-fer!
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The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics)
"Fools rush in": It's a song, it's a saying, it's a Mathew Perry movie! But first it was Alexander Pope's final couplet in "An essay on Criticism" (1709), where "fools" are his literary critics: "Nay, fly to Altars; there they'll talk you dead; / For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread."
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The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer
John H. Fisher
"Twitter": Thought you were all cool and contemporary, Tweeting away? Well Chaucer beat you there in 1380. He coined the term translating Boethius’s “De Consolatione Philosophiæ," in which a bird, waking in the morning, "twitters desiring the wood with her sweet voice."
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The Lord of the Rings
"All that is gold does not glitter": No it wasn't Led Zepplin. In this construction it's the title of a poem Tokien wrote for The Lord of the Rings, which begins: "All that is gold does not glitter, / Not all those who wander are lost." An earlier contruction comes from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, which reads "All that glisters is not gold" - a small difference which changes the meaning entirely.
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The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott: With a Biography, and His Last Additions, and Illustrations
"Caught red handed": Poet, novelist, and all around word-smith Sir Walter Scott coined many phrases in the 17th century that have held on, including "caught red handed", "cold shoulder", and "tongue in cheek."
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"All Hell Broke Loose": This one comes straight from Book IV of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,”(1667). The warrior-angel Gabriel confronts Satan, post-Fall, and asks: “Wherefore with thee / Came not all hell broke loose?”
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Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion
"Method in his madness": Shakspeare might be the ultimate coiner of phrases in the English language. Here are just a few choice selections that he invented: "method in his madness", "good riddance," "seen better days," "a sorry sight", "neither rhyme nor reason," "one fell swoop", and "pomp and circumstance."
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Poems, 1799 (Dodo Press)
"Chickens coming home to roost": Though forbodingly roosting fowl have been around in idiomatic English for ages, the modern construction of the phrase was first penned by Robert Southey in his 1810 poem “The Curse of Kehama," which goes: “Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.”
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The Complete Works of Shakespeare (6th Edition)
"Swagger": The Bard's just that prolific, we've mentioned him twice. Phrases aside, he coined hundreds of individual words that we use every day. Here's just a fraction: skim milk, obscene, drugged, addiction, gloomy, puking, jaded, hint, champion, buzzer, bedroom, fashionable, undress, zany, swagger. (Yes, swagger.)
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