Published: 12 Mar 2018

Golden words are not often repeated

Famous golden phrases

Have you mastered the elegant turn of phrase? Do people speak of how well you speak? If you’re looking nervously for the door, don’t worry. For centuries, the inarticulates are saved by common expressions that do the job. We’ve rounded up five phrases that have to do with Gold and we’ve thrown in their origin stories as a bonus. You’re welcome.

All that glitters is not gold

Meant to establish that true value doesn’t lie in outward appearances, the phrase first appeared in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The character Portia had a nifty little test set up so that she could choose the best husband. She had put out three caskets- a gold one, a silver and a lead – with her picture in one of them. The suitor who chose the right casket would win her hand. The first suitor, the Price of Morocco, went straight for the gold, but alas came up empty. The scroll inside the casket was inscribed with the words of the phrase, “All that glitters is not gold / Often you have heard it told…”. In the most brutal rejection before ‘Bye Felicia,’ the scroll went on to tell the shallow Prince,’ Fare thee well, thy suit is cold.” Ouch!

Sitting on a gold mine

This one means that you soon will be in possession of incredible wealth. We’re talking about a major explosion of money that’s likely to keep coming. You’ve discovered Marilyn Monroe’s secret journal, for instance. Or you’ve just inherited a particularly lucrative business. The phrase was first uttered word for word in 1877, in Big Horn, USA. An exhausted cavalry officer, who had been looking for Native Americans with his military outfit, slumped down to rest. A soldier nearby who spotted a gleam in the dirt shouted, “My God Captain, you are sitting on a gold mine!” Believe it or not, he was. And we have an idiom now because of it.

Finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow

Trust the Irish to come up with something so pretty. This phrase is used in language to mean finding true happiness but its origin story shows that true happiness is an illusion. According to Irish folklore, leprechauns (mythical creatures who are typically tricksters) buried pots of gold all over Ireland. Nobody knew where these pots were buried and so believed that the rainbow ended where the treasure was. Of course, one can never really find the end of a rainbow so if you set out looking for one, it was sure to end in disappointment.

A golden key can open many doors

Money can get almost anything done. Nobody who has been part of human history could disagree with that. Though the first written record of the phrase comes from the English playwright John Lyly in 1580. However, it is perhaps better known from the 1969 cult film ‘The Magic Christian’ which starred Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers. Filmmaker Joseph McGrath premised the film, a dark comedy, on the phrase.

As good as gold

Though it means to be obedient, this expression has its origins in money. When paper currency didn’t have any value of its own, promissory notes or an IOU were administered with the vow that that the paper was as genuine as Gold. Over the years, the meaning of the expression changed. It was finally cemented as a popular phrase when Charles Dickens used it in his novel ‘A Christmas Carol’.