Have you ever come across this phrase, maybe you are studying English literature and this has been in one of the texts you are reading. The world is your oyster certainly makes an appearance in Shakespeare’s works. Maybe you have been set the question in school to define what “the world is your oyster” means, or you are just curious to where this popular English idiom came from. We have all these answers below.
The idiom ”the world is your oyster” originates from the Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare, it acknowledges the start of new challenges that may, with hard work and effort, result in rewards. It uses oysters being difficult to open, but with the chance of finding a pearl inside as a metaphor for life.
As it’s such a motivational thing to say to people we have also put the idiom ‘the world is your oyster” on some images for you to print of and stick in your room, or classroom if you want to inspire yourself, your students or anyone else.
We also have a list of the 50 most common idioms in English to help you learn some of these common sayings and phrases as well.
Where Does The World is Your Oyster Come From?
The phrase the world is your oyster, (it can be the world is my oyster – if you say it yourself of course) is first seen in the Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare. The Shakespearean quote is below, and is worded little differently to the phrase we use today. (Many Shakespearean quotes have been mixed up and adapted throughout the years.
As you can see the original intent is not particular inspirational! It is a character threatening a Merry Wife of Windsor with violence! he wants to crack her open to get the pearl inside. In this case her money.
What Does ”The World is Your Oyster” Mean?
Over the years the original meaning and wording has changed and evolved into ”the world is your oyster” and has a much less violent meaning. Now if you say it to someone you are not threatening them for their money (we hope!), you are wishing them well on their change, or their journey through life.
It is an acknowledgement of embarking on a new challenge that with hard work and effort may result in great reward at the end. it uses oysters as the journey through life as they take time and effort to open, and the pearl as the reward for that hard work and effort.
It is usually said to younger people, or at times of change. it signifies that good things lay ahead. For example Young sports people often have it said about them. “Chase Elliott is only 26 the world is his oyster!” It means they could go on to do great things
However, as not all oysters have pearls, and there is no way of knowing ( in Shakespearean times at least) if there is a pearl inside it also suggest that despite the hard work and effort needed to journey through life, there is also a little luck needed as well.
Is The World is your Oyster an Idiom?
An idiom is a phrase or group of words that is meaning is not instantly clear. it is often more figurative use of language than literal. In many cases an idioms, meaning is difficult to understand without some contextual cues. Over the moon, besides myself for example!
The world is your oyster is an idiom and it is certainly difficult to understand unless there is some context around it. We have examples below of when it would be used, and you can see that it the context of both the situation and the words help to give meaning to it.
Examples of “The World is Your Oyster” in Use.
Although “the world is your oyster” is a fairly common English idiom, it is not appropriate in all circumstances. As we mentioned it is meant to send best wishes at times of change, and to convey good luck for the future. We have some examples of its use in the table below.
|Situation||Using the World is Your Oyster Examples.|
|Graduating University||Well done on your degree! the world is your oyster now!|
|Retiring from work||No more work, the world is really your oyster!|
|Unsure of next steps||You can do anything you want, the world is your oyster.|
|Leaving a job||You should take some time, with your experience the worlds’ your oyster!|
|Looking forward||I’m not worried about the future, the world is my oyster!|
|A significant birthday||The world is your oyster now that you are an adult! Happy birthday.|
Other English Idiom Examples
There are Hundreds, and hundreds! of idioms in english. Second language learners often think they are thrown in there just to give them a hard time but they have been developed from sayings and phrases all over the world and put into a language that has roots over 2000 years old!
Lots of idioms may stem from events in the past ( spanner in the works, ) some idioms may be more recent and modern… (it’s not rocket science)
Below you will find a list of 50 common idioms to help you get started…. however it’s just the tip of the iceberg ( 😉 that was number one )
|Idiom Example||Explanation of Idiom||Idiom Sentence Examples|
|tip of the iceberg||just the start, there is more to come or hidden.||That problem is just the tip of the iceberg|
|Let the cat out of the bag||to divulge a secret that wasn’t supposed to be known.||you weren’t supposed to say that, now the cat is out of the bag.|
|Over the moon||Very happy, delighted||I just won the quiz, I am over the moon!|
|under the weather||not feeling very well, sick||I will not be in work today, i am feeling under the weather.|
|on the ball||doing well, focussed||He is doing well, always on the ball.|
|make a long story short||save time and tell the short version||Anyway, to make a long story short.|
|hit the sack||to go to sleep||I am so tired, i’m going to hit the sack.|
|piece of cake||something very easy||The test was a piece of cake.|
|rain check||arrange to do something another time, postpone||Can we do a rain check for dinner, something came up.|
|drop of a hat||do something now, straight away||I cant just do it at the drop of a hat.|
|time flies||time moves fast||wow, look at the time, time flies when you are having fun.|
|perfect storm||the worst of all outcomes||if that happens it will be a perfect storm at work tomorrow.|
|fish out of water||uncomfortable, out of place||When he went to the party he was like a fish out of water.|
|give the cold shoulder||ignore someone||she is giving me the cold shoulder, i don’t know why.|
|on cloud nine||very happy||i’m so happy I am on cloud nine.|
|ignorance is bliss||better not knowing something||its better you don’t know, ignorance is bliss.|
|lend a hand||to help with something||can you lend a hand, this is taking a long time.|
|a leg up||too boost or help someone improve a situation||I gave him a leg up with his school project.|
|Achilles heel||a weakness or weak spot||we have to find his achilles heel to defeat him.|
|on thin ice||a risky situation||I’m on thin ice at school after i was naughty today.|
|apple of my eye||a favourite or someone really loved||my son is the apple of my eye.|
|spill the beans||to tell a secret||Come on spill the beans, i want to know.|
|the whole nine yards||to use and do everything possible.||He really gave the whole nine yards at work today.|
|the ball is in your court||your responsibility, your action to take||You can tell me tomorrow, the ball is in your court now.|
|plenty more fish in the sea||to say there are many more choices. often romantic||i know its sad, but there are plenty more fish in the sea.|
|the elephant in the room||the problem, or topic no one wants to discuss.||Well if no one else will talk about it we need to talk about the elephant in the room.|
|sleep on it||Take your time before a decision.||Don’t make a rash decision, sleep on it and we can talk tomorrow.|
|fit as a fiddle||very healthy||My grandpa is as fit as a fiddle.|
|break the ice||to start a conversation||Im going over there to break the ice.|
|cut some slack||to give someone a chance, the benefit of the doubt||you should cut her some slack, she is trying her best.|
|beat around the bush||to avoid a topic of conversation||Stop beating around the bush, we need to talk about it.|
|sitting on the fence||avoid making a decision.||You need to stop sitting on the fence and make a decision one way or the other.|
|let off the hook||to escape punishment for an action.||We let him off the hook at school today.|
|burn a bridge||unable to go back, have to continue onwards||Well you can’t go back, that bridge has been burnt.|
|comparing apples and oranges||comparing two things that cant be compared, too very different items.||It is like comparing apples and oranges.|
|pulling your leg||joking, playing a trick, not being serious||calm down, i’m only pulling your leg.|
|penny for your thoughts||used to ask what someone is thinking about||You look worried, penny for your thoughts.|
|left in the dark||unaware of what is happening, when other people are||Why am i always left in the dark|
|missed the boat||missed an opportunity.||Well i missed the boat on that one!|
|the ship has sailed||too late, opportunity has been lost||You cant go back to your job, that ship has sailed.|
|up in the air||no decision has been made.||The project is up in the air now, we need to plan again.|
|once in a blue moon||A very rare occurrence.||Dad paid for dinner! , that only happens once in a blue moon.|
|butterflies in my stomach||feel nervous, tummy feels like it is flipping around.||I had butterflies in my stomach before my driving test.|
|draw the line||to set a limit on what is acceptable||i am drawing the line here, don’t test me.|
|skin of your teeth||to just get away with something, a narrow escape||that car missed you by the skin of yoru teeth.|
|hold your horses||slow down and/or stop||hold your horses, we need a plan first.|
|go down in flames||to fail spectacular, usually in public||well that idea went down in flames in the meeting.|
|chase rainbows||to have unrealistic dreams or expectations.||he needs to stop chasing rainbows if he is going to succeed.|
|it costs an arm and a leg||An prohibitively expensive item||I cant buy that car, it costs an arm and a leg.|
|a dime a dozen||Something of little value, very common.||i don’t want that dress, they are a dime a dozen.|
Hopefully this has given you an idea of where the world is your oyster idiom came from, and how we can use it today. As you can see from the list above there are hundreds of sayings we use in English that can confused second language learners.
We can only say keeping going, some of these idioms confuse native speakers just as much as second language learners so you need not worry too much.
The more you learn the better your English will get and then, the world is your oyster too. 😉