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. This can be applied to just about any experience in life.

While early expressions of the idea are known from at least the 12th century, the current saying is derived from a 16th-century line by William Shakespeare.


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, 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—
Cold, indeed, and labor lost.

Panning for gold often results in finding pyrite, nicknamed fool's gold, which reflects substantially more light than authentic gold does. Gold in its raw form appears dull and lusterless.[7]

Glitters or glisters[edit]

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.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

In pop culture, this phrase shows up in Bob Marley and Peter Tosh's "Get Up, Stand Up".[9][10] It is also used as lyrics in the song "A Guided Masquerade" by Alesana, in the song "Domino Rain" by Antemasque, in the song "Gold" by Prince, and in the Kanye West song, "Family Business".

The phrase is referenced in J.R.R. Tolkien's poem, "All that is gold does not glitter", originally written for The Fellowship of the Ring.

SpongeBob SquarePants uses the phrase for a Season 4 episode, "All that Glitters".[11] It is also mentioned in a scene when SpongeBob apologises to his spatula.[12]

Another common formulation with the same meaning is "All that shines is not gold", as seen in the title and refrain of the song "All That Shines Is Not Gold"[13] and in the lyrics of "Next Time You See Me"[14] as well as Curtis Mayfield's "That's What Mama Say".[15]

Neil Young uses the saying 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.[16]

The well-known songs "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, and "All Star" by Smash Mouth makes a reference to this saying, although they turn it on its head by saying "All that glitters is gold."

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. ^ Armstrong, L. K. (December 1899). "The Mines at the Exposition". Mining: Journal of the Northwest Mining Association. 4 (6): 193.
  8. ^ Martin, Gary. "'All that glitters is not gold' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Video on YouTube
  11. ^ "SpongeBob SquarePants" All That Glitters/Wishing You Well (TV Episode 2006), retrieved 2018-06-27
  12. ^ sconge07 (2007-10-16), All That Glitters, retrieved 2018-06-27
  13. ^ Cox, W. "All That Shines Is Not Gold".
  14. ^ "Grateful Dead – Next Time You See Me Lyrics".
  15. ^ Video on YouTube
  16. ^ Greene, Andy. "The 10 Best Neil Young Deep Cuts: 'Don't Be Denied'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 January 2017.

External links[edit]