Origins of Phrases and Idioms; "Gild the Lily"

This is the second in a series of hubs dedicated to research of common phrases, the origins and meanings of them, and places you might find them in everyday life. I find it so interesting where things come from, especially things we might say and not know the real meanings of. If you would like to read the first hub of the series titled "Origins of Phrases; "A Fool's Paradise", click here.


"Gild the Lily"; To apply unnecessary ornament - to over embellish. Gild meaning: 'to gild' is to cover with a thin layer of gold, so if you are gilding the lily you are unnecessarily adding to something that doesn't need it.

Idiom meaning:

to gild the lily

1. To adorn unnecessarily something already beautiful.

2. To make superfluous additions to what is already complete.


From Shakespeare's King John, 1595:

Therefore, to be possess'd with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

It's not always easy to recall or quote Shakespeare from memory so over time the direct quote has become a bit warped . As you see the the above quote directly from Shakespear, 'gild the lily' doesn't appear in the original; "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily" is the reference used.

"Paint the lily' was actually used in the early 1900s (20th century), to carry the same meaning. The two versions;, "Gild the lily" and "Paint the lily" were both used for a time, although 'paint the lily' is almost never said now. The first citation for the actual 'gild the lily' came from the U.S. of A, from 1895 in the Newark Daily Advocate in what looks like a half-remembered version of Shakespeare:

"One may gild the lily and paint the rose, but to convey by words only an adequate idea of the hats and bonnets now exhibited absolutely passes human ability."

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.

"Gild the Lily" Videos

Amazon Music; "Gild the Lily"

Eliza Rickman's Music; Gild the Lily

Gild the Lily [EP]

Listen to song; Black Rose from the album Gild the Lily 02:08/02:56

  • Gild the Lily [EP]

    6-song EP includes favorites "Black Rose" and "Cinnamon Bone", as well as a charming rendition of the beloved Mancini/Mercer tune, "Moon River."$6 USD
  • see another Eliza Rickman VIDEO below

Books; "Gild the Lily"

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1 comment

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Another awesome hub - I haven't heard this phrase for a while but it is so apt in today's world of false platitudes and over exaggeration.

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