What's In a Word?
December 28, 2011
When I asked some of my coworkers for ideas for a blog, almost simultaneously they said, "Bah humbug" and "Grinch." "Bah humbug" is a favorite saying of a character from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Grinch is the title character from Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Both stories are about characters that have an unfavorable outlook on Christmas and whose views are changed by the end of the story. People who are grumpy about Christmas are often called a "scrooge" or a "grinch."
This got me to wondering about how literature has affected other terms or sayings we have. For instance, people who lead children into a life of crime are called a "fagan" after a character from another Charles Dickens character in Oliver Twist.
Here are some common phrases we use and the Shakespearean plays they come from.
- A laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
- A sorry sight (Macbeth)
- As dead as a doornail (Henry VI)
- Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2)
- Fair play (The Tempest)
- I will wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)
- In a pickle (The Tempest)
- In stitches (Twelfth Night)
- In the twinkling of an eye (The Merchant of Venice)
- Mum's the word (Henry VI, Part 2)
- Neither here nor there (Othello)
- Send him packing (Henry IV)
- Set your teeth on edge (Henry IV)
- There's method in my madness (Hamlet)
- Too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
- Vanish into thin air (Othello)
(from Lee Jamieson's article "Common Phrases invented by Shakespeare" in about.com)
To fight pointless or imaginary battles with conviction can be referred to as "tilting at windmills" from Cervantes' Don Quixote. A no-win situation can be called a "Catch 22" from the novel by the same name by Joseph Heller. It is thought that the phrase "in the doghouse" could come from J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan when Mr. Darling lives in the doghouse until his children come home because he feels his being unkind to the family dog caused the children to leave. There are many phrases that come from Greek and Roman mythology (for more information, check out joe-ks.com.)
Literature has definitely affected the way we say things.
Blue Ridge Branch