Salad days

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"Salad days" is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression that means a youthful time, a period of carefree innocence, idealism and pleasure associated with youth. The modern use, especially in the United States, refers to a heyday, a period when somebody was at the peak of their abilities, not necessarily in their youth. The first English writer known to use "salad days" to associate the vigor and recklessness of youth was William Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, Scene 5.


The phrase first appeared in print in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in 1606.[1] In the speech at the end of Act One in which Cleopatra is regretting her youthful dalliances with Julius Caesar she says, "...My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood/To say as I said then!"[2]

The phrase became popular only from the middle of the 19th century, coming to mean "a period of youthful inexperience or indiscretion." The metaphor comes from Cleopatra's use of the word 'green'—presumably meaning someone youthful, inexperienced, or immature. Her references to "green" and "cold" both suggest qualities of salads.[3]

Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage summarizes several other possible meanings of the metaphor:

"Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth's food as milk is babes' and meat is men's, few of those who use the phrase could perhaps tell us; if so, it is fitter for parrots' than for human speech."[4]


Queen Elizabeth II used the phrase during her Silver Jubilee royal address in 1977, referring to her vow to God and her people when she made her 21st birthday broadcast: "Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I do not regret nor retract one word of it."

The phrase has been used as the title of several books, including novels by Theodora Benson,[5] Françoise Sagan,[6] and Charles Romalotti;[7] Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s autobiography The Salad Days;[8] and numerous cookbooks.[9][10]

Paul Greenberg in "Tuna's End", his 2010 New York Times Magazine article wrote: "Aboard one Zodiac, Frank Hewetson, a 20-year Greenpeace veteran who in his salad days as a protester scaled the first BP deepwater oil rigs off Scotland, tried to direct his pilot toward the net so that he could throw a daisy chain of sandbags over its floating edge and allow the bluefin to escape."[11]

In film, television, and modern theatre[edit]

Salad Days is a British musical by Julian Slade and lyricist Dorothy Reynolds. It premiered in the UK at the Bristol Old Vic[12] in June 1954, and transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre in London on 5 August 1954. One of its songs, "The Time of My Life," includes the lyrics,[13] "We're young and we're green as the leaf on the tree / For these are our salad days."

In a 1964 episode of The Andy Griffith Show (season 5, episode 19), Andy asks Barney how he can burn the candle at both ends. Barney responds, "Well, these are my salad days."

In the 1977 Rudy Ray Moore film Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son In Law, Lou Cipher claims that the deal he made with Adam and Eve was during his salad days, when he was young.

In the 1987 Joel and Ethan Coen film Raising Arizona, Nicolas Cage as H.I. "Hi" McDunnough uses the expression twice during the opening voiceover.

In a 1990 episode of the television series The Simpsons, Mr. Burns explains his reasons for not firing Homer after he was caught claiming hair restorer on the company health plan. "You may find this hard to believe, but in my salad days, my crowning glory was a bright shock of strawberry blonde curls."

In a season 3 episode of Red vs. Blue, a zealot delivers a diatribe for his team's lost flag, claiming that the "days of salad and glory" are over.

The 1996 film Independence Day contains the line "Are the salad days over for President Whitmore?"

A sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus is called "Salad Days," and features a parody of Slade's musical as interpreted by Sam Peckinpah.

Salad Days is the name of a documentary film released in 2014 about the evolving punk and hardcore scene in Washington DC during the 1980s and 1990s. The choice of name hints at the 1985 Salad Days (EP) by the Washington DC band Minor Threat.

In the television series Frasier, season 10, episode 20, Frasier sarcastically tells the cafe owner, "Perhaps you two used to gig together in your salad days."

In the television series Californication, season 1, episode 2, Hank Moody refers to the period when he was writing the original film adaptation of his novel God Hates Us All as his "salad days." A subsequent reference is made in season 1, episode 10, by Hank's agent Charlie Runkle as the two commiserate while drinking.

The 2010 Taiwanese drama Gloomy Salad Days is named after the expression.

In the television series The Wire, season 5, episode 4, Lester Freamon refers to his "salad days in patrol."

In music[edit]

Album and song titles[edit]

  • In 1985, Washington, D.C., hardcore punk band Minor Threat released the song "Salad Days," reflecting on days of spirited youth in contrast to a time of adult disillusionment.
  • Adrian Belew's 1999 album, Salad Days, consists of acoustic recordings of solo work as well as songs from his King Crimson era.
  • The pop-punk/emo band Misser has a song called "Goddamn Salad Days" from their 2013 EP Distancing.[14]
  • "Salad Days" is a song by the Cardiff post-punk band Young Marble Giants, including the lyric "Think of salad days, they were folly and fun, they were good, they were young."

In song lyrics[edit]

  • The phrase is used in the Spandau Ballet song "Gold": "These are my salad days, slowly being eaten away."
  • The idiom is used again in the opening line of the track "Lovers Who Uncover" by the Little Ones: "Where do all the lovers meet with one another, in an effort to uncover what has happened to their salad days?"
  • The phrase is also used in the track "Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)" from Patrick Stump's Truant Wave EP: "Oh, nostalgia I don't need you anymore / 'Cause the salad days are over and the meat is at my door."
  • Frank Zappa's song "Electric Aunt Jemima" contains the phrase as well: "Holiday and salad days, and days of moldy mayonnaise."
  • Talib Kweli's song "Friends & Family" on his album Gutter Rainbows uses the phrase in reference to his early career: "Rhyming in Greenwich Village circa 1993 / Yeah those were the salad days, my career's appetizer." His song "Ms. Hill" on his album Right About Now uses the phrase, saying, "We used to kick it in the salad days, but she look at me like she don't know me when she see me nowadays."
  • The phrase is also used in the chorus of the track "Vince The Loveable Stoner" from The Fratellis's Costello Music album: "And I haven't seen a pupil in his eyes for 16 days, the Catholic girls love him in a hundred million different ways, and he's been up for days, in a thick malaise, he's only listened to the salad days."[16]
  • The song "What Would Jimi Do?" on bassist Tony Levin's album Resonator begins with the lyric "Lately, I've been thinking back, back into my salad days."
  • Geddy Lee refers to the phrase in Rush's 2010 documentary called Beyond the Lighted Stage.[17]
  • Green Day's song "¡Viva la Gloria!" uses the phrase: "You made your bed in salad days amongst the ruins."
  • The Finn Brothers song "Edible Flowers" from 2004's Everyone Is Here album features the line "Taste the edible flowers scattered in the salad days."
  • Desaparecidos' song "City on the Hill" from their 2015 record Payola includes the lyric: "All the stolen melodies they played in the hit parade / all the borrowed spirituals they fade in the salad days."
  • Brand New's song "Waste" from their 2017 record Science Fiction includes the lyric: "You and I were stuck in the waste / Talking about our salad days / What a damn lie."


  1. ^ Jack, Albert (2005). Red herrings and white elephants: the origins of the phrases we use everyday. HarperCollins. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-06-084337-3. Retrieved 2011-04-28. The phrase is a simple one with a simple origin provided, once again, by Shakespeare. In 1606 the Bard wrote the play Antony And Cleopatra, which includes the line: 'They were my salad days, when I was green in judgement.'
  2. ^ Michael Macrone (1990), "Salad Days", Brush up your Shakespeare!, pp. 126–127, ISBN 978-0-517-18935-1
  3. ^ Walker, John Louis (2002). Shakespeare and the classical tradition: an annotated bibliography, 1961-1991. New York: Routledge. p. 340. ISBN 0-8240-6697-9. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  4. ^ Fowler, H. W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 1926.
  5. ^ "Salad Days". The Spectator Archive. 20 October 1928. p. 52. Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  6. ^ Sagan, Françoise, Salad Days, Dutton Adult, 1984, ISBN 0-525-24238-4
  7. ^ Romalotti, Charles, Salad Days, Layman Press, 2000, ISBN
  8. ^ Fairbanks, Douglas, Jr., Salad Days, Doubleday, 1988, ISBN 978-0-385-17404-6
  9. ^ Desaulnier, Marcel, Salad Days: Main Course Salads for a First Class Meal, Simon & Schuster, 1998, ISBN 978-0-684-82261-7
  10. ^ Powell, Pam, Salad Days: Recipes for Delicious Organic Salads and Dressings for Every Season, Voyageur Press, 2011, ISBN 0-7603-4043-9
  11. ^ Paul Greenberg (June 21, 2010). "Tuna's End". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
  12. ^ "Salad Days". 27 August 2021.
  13. ^ Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade (1961), Salad Days — Book and lyrics, p. 54, ISBN 978-0-573-08025-8
  14. ^ Video on YouTube
  15. ^ "Mac DeMarco announces new album, Salad Days, stream "Passing Out Pieces"". January 21, 2014.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-13. Retrieved 2012-09-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage" – via

External links[edit]