All that glitters is not gold
"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 and may date back to Æsop. The Latin is Non omne quod nitet aurum est. The French monk Alain de Lille wrote "Do not hold everything gold that shines like gold" in 1175.
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", and "Hyt is not al golde that glareth" in "The House of Fame".
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):
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
The original version of the saying used the word glisters, but glitters long ago became the predominant form. Poet John Dryden used glitter in his 1687 poem The Hind and the Panther. The words glister and glitter have the same meaning.
In popular culture
The phrase first became a song, "All That Glitters Is Not Gold," in 1901, with words by George A. Norton and music by James W. Casey. 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.
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.
In the episode, "All That Glitters" of SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob gives a brief soliloquy of the Shakespearean quote directly to the audience.
- "Gods of the Copybook Headings" – a poem reflecting on eternal truths amid human pretensions, by Rudyard Kipling
- "Things are seldom what they seem" – song in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore, where Little Buttercup alludes to Captain Corcoran's low birth by singing of things that may appear as one thing whilst being another, including the line "All that glitters is not gold".
- "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" – poem by Thomas Gray which ends "Nor all, that glisters, gold"
- The Phrase Finder; but see another view
- Discussion at Everything2
- Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (3rd ed.). OUP. 1970. p. 316. ISBN 0198691181.
- 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.
- "Hyt is not al golde that glareth". Theidioms.com. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
- Shakespeare, William (1823). Measure for measure. Comedy of errors. Merchant of Venice. As you like it. Collins & Hannay. p. 171.
- Martin, Gary. "'All that glitters is not gold' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder.
- Norton, Geo. "All That Glitters Is Not Gold". New York Public Library Digital Collections. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
- Greene, Andy. "The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts: 'Don't Be Denied'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
- Context of Shakespeare's quote at enotes.com