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 16th-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, though it is often taken as the similar and synonymous glitters. The poet John Dryden used glitter in his 1687 poem The Hind and the Panther.[7]

Arthur Golding, in his 1577 English translation of John Calvin's sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians, used 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]

Early uses[edit]

In H.M.S Pinafore, an 1878 comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, the phrase appears as "all that glitters is not gold."[10]

In 1901, the sheet music publishers M. Witmark & Sons released "All That Glitters Is Not Gold", featuring words by George A. Norton and music by James W. Casey.[11] 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.


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:[12]

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. Both Tolkien's phrase and the original ask the reader to look beneath the skin, rather than judging on outward appearance.[12]

Popular music[edit]

Led Zeppelin reference the phrase in the opening line of their 1971 hit "Stairway to Heaven": "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold". The song itself is filled with Tolkien references, perhaps referencing Tolkien's flipping of the phrase as much as the original itself.

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.[13]

In the 1973 single "Get Up, Stand Up" by The Wailers, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh used the phrase in the first verse to reflect the themes of the song - namely the critiques of colonialism and Christianity, and their roles in creating a feeling of resignation among the African diaspora contrary to their values and beliefs:[14]

Preacher man don't tell me heaven is under the earth,
I know you don't know what life is really worth,
It's not all that glitter is gold,
Half the story has never been told,
So now you see the light,
Stand up for your right.

— Bob Marley, "Get Up, Stand Up"

The song "Gold" by Prince has the refrain "All that glitters ain't gold".

A deviation from the phrase can be found in the song "Posthuman" by Marilyn Manson, released on the 1998 album Mechanical Animals, whose lyrics include the line "All that glitters is cold".[15]

Rock band Smash Mouth used the version, "All that glitters is gold", in their 1999 song, "All Star."[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Phrase Finder; but see another view
  2. ^ "All that glitters is not gold -".
  3. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 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 978-0380762385.
  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. ^ Arthur Sullivan, William Schwenck Gilbert (1879). ... H.M.S. Pinafore: Or, The Lass that Loved a Sailor. An Entirely Original Comic Opera, in Two Acts. unknown library. Bacon & company, Book and job printers.
  11. ^ Norton, Geo. "All That Glitters Is Not Gold". New York Public Library Digital Collections. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  12. ^ a b Kollmann, Judith J. (2007). "How 'All That Glisters Is Not Gold' Became 'All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter': Aragorn's Debt to Shakespeare". In Croft, Janet Brennan (ed.). Tolkien and Shakespeare: Essays on Shared Themes and Languages. McFarland & Company. pp. 110–127. ISBN 978-0786428274.
  13. ^ Greene, Andy (3 June 2015). "The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts: 'Don't Be Denied'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  14. ^ Genegabus, Jason (20 October 2011). "HIFF Review: 'Bob Marley: Making of a Legend'". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  15. ^ "Omēga and the Mechanical Animals | 'All That Glitters is Cold' - the NACHTKABARETT".
  16. ^ "All Star - Google Search".

External links[edit]