You Are Quoting Shakespeare if…

by John Delach

My cousin, Bill put me on to “Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters” by Harold Evans. I recommend this gem of a book to anyone who wants to improve their writing skills.


Mr. Evans catalogues a list of clichés writers should avoid. These include acid test, breathless silence, crack troops, dig in their heels, given the green light, heartfelt thanks, in the nick of time, long arm of the law, never a dull moment, part and parcel, red faces, stick out like a sore thumb, true colors, up in arms and widespread anxiety. Directly following this list, He takes a time out that he calls “Interlude.” It contains the following passage Evans attributes to the late Bernard Levin:


If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “Its Greek to me,” then you are

quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting

Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in

sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has

vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an

inch or suffered from green-eyed  jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have

been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your

brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted  on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on

ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and  master), laughed yourself into stiches, had

short shift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing,  if you have seen better days or lived

in a fool’s paradise – why, be that as it may, the more fool  you, for it is but a forgone

conclusion that you are (as luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare;  if you think it is early

days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that’s the long and

short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it  involves your

own flesh and blood, if you lie low to the crack of doom because you support foul  play, if

you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to

 give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head)

you  are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if

you wish I was dead as doornail, if you think that I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the

devil incarnate, a stone-hearted villain, bloody minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove!

Oh Lord! Tut tut!  For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no butts! – It is all one to

me, for you are quoting  Shakespeare.