All that glitters is not gold

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"All that glitters is not gold" is an aphorism stating that not everything that looks precious or true turns out to be so.

While early expressions of the idea are known from at least the 12th–13th century, the current saying is derived from a 16th-century line by William Shakespeare, "All that glisters is not gold".


The expression, in various forms, originated in or before the 12th century[1] and may date back to Æsop.[2] The Latin is Non omne quod nitet aurum est.[3] The French monk Alain de Lille wrote "Do not hold everything gold that shines like gold" in 1175.[4]

Chaucer gave two early versions in English: "But al thyng which that shyneth as the gold / Nis nat gold, as that I have herd it told" in "The Canon's Yeoman's Tale",[3] and "Hyt is not al golde that glareth" in "The House of Fame".[5]

The popular form of the expression is a derivative of a line in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, which employs the word "glisters," a 17th-century synonym for "glitters." The line comes from a secondary plot of the play, in the scroll inside the golden casket the puzzle of Portia's boxes (Act II – Scene VII – Prince of Morocco):[6]

All that glisters is not gold—
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscrolled
Fare you well. Your suit is cold—

— William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene 7

Glitters or glisters[edit]

The original version of the saying used the word glisters, but glitters long ago became the predominant form.[clarification needed] Poet John Dryden used glitter in his 1687 poem The Hind and the Panther. The words glister and glitter have the same meaning.[7]

Arthur Golding in his 1577 English translation of John Calvin's sermons on Ephesians uses the phrase "But al is not gold that glistereth" in sermon 15.[8]

In 1747, Thomas Gray paraphrased the saying in his Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes which finishes with the lines:

Not all that tempts your wandering eyes

And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;

Nor all that glisters, gold".[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The phrase first originated from The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, "All that glisters is not gold." (William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene 7) It later became a song, "All That Glitters Is Not Gold," in 1901, with words by George A. Norton and music by James W. Casey.[10] The song is perhaps best remembered today for its inclusion in Bowery Bugs (1949), a Bugs Bunny cartoon based on the story of Steve Brodie.

Neil Young used the phrase in his song "Don't Be Denied" ("Well, all that glitters isn't gold/I know you've heard that story told"), from his 1973 album Time Fades Away, to express his "realization that even success wouldn't make him happy", even after he obtained fame and money.[11]

Led Zeppelin reference the phrase in the opening line of their hit Stairway to Heaven: "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold".

The phrase is referenced with a reversal of the usual meaning in J.R.R. Tolkien's poem "The Riddle of Strider", originally written for The Fellowship of the Ring:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Riddle of Strider, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The poem emphasizes that sometimes gold is hidden or mistaken for something else, as opposed to gaudy facades being mistaken for real gold. Strider, secretly the rightful king of Gondor, appears to be a mere Ranger. Fundamentally, both Tolkien's phrase and the original ask the reader to look beneath the skin, rather than judging on outward look alone.

Smash Mouth reference the phrase in the chorus of their signature song, All Star: "All that glitters is gold / Only shooting stars break the mold".

In the episode, "All That Glitters" of SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob gives a brief soliloquy of the Shakespearean quote directly to the audience.

Gabrielle Aplin’s song Keep on Walking from her 2013 album English Rain includes the lyrics 'All that glitters is not gold / From these bruises flowers grow'.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Phrase Finder; but see another view
  2. ^ Discussion at Everything2
  3. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (3rd ed.). OUP. 1970. p. 316. ISBN 0198691181.
  4. ^ Flexner, Stuart Berg (1993). Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings, Olde and New. Avon Books. p. 7. ISBN 9780380762385.
  5. ^ "Hyt is not al golde that glareth". Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  6. ^ Shakespeare, William (1823). Measure for measure. Comedy of errors. Merchant of Venice. As you like it. Collins & Hannay. p. 171.
  7. ^ Martin, Gary. "'All that glitters is not gold' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder.
  8. ^ Sermons of Iohn Caluin vpon Saint Paules Epistle too the Ephesians. Early English Books Online. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  9. ^ Tillotson, Geoffrey (2013). Augustan Studies. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 222. ISBN 978-1472507150.
  10. ^ Norton, Geo. "All That Glitters Is Not Gold". New York Public Library Digital Collections. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  11. ^ Greene, Andy (3 June 2015). "The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts: 'Don't Be Denied'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 January 2017.

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