• A. Gulvin Translation

Shakespeare's-Own Idioms

Updated: Feb 5, 2018

Idioms are a really important but really tricky part of every language. It’s hard to imagine being able to communicate just like a native speaker without being able to use and understand idioms properly.


But what exactly is an idiom? The dictionary defines ‘idiom’ as ‘a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible* from those of the individual words.’ Did you know the word ‘idioma’ actually means ‘language’ in Spanish? Idioms really are almost like a language of their own.


So you can see why these can be so tricky for non-native speakers! You can’t find out the meaning of an idiom just by looking up each individual word in the dictionary and adding it all together, because the idiom is like a ‘sentence’ that has its own meaning.

Let’s have a look at some examples that come from Shakespeare’s work. Did you know that Shakespeare actually made up lots of new words that we now use as part of the English language? But that’s another post!



To go on a wild goose chase



Ok so you know what ‘go’ means, you know what ‘wild’ means, you know what ‘goose’ means and you know what ‘chase’ means. And now you’ve got a rather funny little image in your brain of somebody running around chasing a wild goose. But what the heck does that mean?! In actual fact to ‘go on a wild goose chase’ means to go on a hopeless quest (a long and hard search for something). I.e. you search for or go after something really hard for a long time but never succeed.


This is believed to have originated from one of Shakepeare’s most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet:


Romeo: Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I’ll cry a match.
Mercutio: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.

If you think about it, now that you know the meaning of the idiom it does make quite a lot of sense. When we use it, we are talking about a fruitless (useless) activity, and it’s hard to imagine a more impossible task than trying to catch a wild goose. And the image is so comical and the task so impossible that it’s a rather lovely phrase. Shakespeare really did have a way with words, didn’t he!


More idioms from Shakespeare include:


‘To be in a pickle.’
‘To have somebody in stitches.’
‘To set somebody’s teeth on edge.’
‘To eat somebody out of house and home.’

Any ideas what these #idioms mean or when you’d use them? Leave your comments below!


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