Written by Akshita Rawat

Some pieces of literature are so powerful that they leave an imprint. Either it is the plot that moves us, or certain characters that we fall in love with, or some phrases that stick to us.

At times, these phrases become part of our vocabulary. Or we hear them so often in the popular culture that we tend to adopt them. Whatever may be the case, most of these are popularised by cinema but have their roots in literature.

So here is a list of popular expressions that originated from pieces of literature.

  1. Catch 22 from Catch-22 , an online dictionary describes “Catch 22” as a “situation in which a person is frustrated by a paradoxical rule or set of circumstances that preclude any attempt to escape from them”.

The term was coined by Joseph Heller, an American author in his 1962 novel’s titled Catch 22 with a backdrop of the WWII. The situation can be explained as follows, a bomber pilot in the novel wants to get out his duty by claiming that he is insane but the very action would mean the awareness of the fact that he is insane, thus implying that he is actually sane.

A modern example is “a person can’t get a job without experience, but can’t get experience without a job”. A classic Catch 22 situation!

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  1. I don’t give  a damn from Gone With the Wind

This phrase was popularised by the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind” which is an adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s first and last novel by the same name. The phrase in the movie “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” became the number one movie line according to a survey and also the most recognised line in cinema. However, the original phrase in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” The novel is set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and highlights the struggles of war concentrating on its protagonist Scarlett O’Hara and her struggle to survive.



  1. Prepare to die from The Princess Bride

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Popularised by the 1987 adventure-comedy film of the same name starring the talented Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, this phrase is quoted so often and can also be seen as a “meme” on social networking sites. The phrase is taken from the 1973 novel The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The novel has something for everyone’s taste. It has,

Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.”


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  1. Good Riddance from Troilus And Cressida

William Shakespeare is undoubtedly the most recognised playwright of the English language. So it should not come as a surprise that a lot of phrases have originated from his plays. One of them is, “Good Riddance”. This phrase first appeared in the 17th-century play Troilus And Cressida by William Shakespeare. Although a modification of this had appeared earlier in his another play The Merchant of Venice which was “a gentle riddance”.

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  1. Swagger from A Midsummer’s Night Dream

According to Urban Dictionary, the word swag has become “the new generation’s alternative word for “cool” and we owe it’s existence to William Shakespeare.

Its first recorded existence is in his 16th-century play A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It also made appearances in his later plays like Henry V and King Lear. The word was originally used as a verb having multiple meanings one of them being insolent in A Midsummer’s Night Dream as What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here. . .?”

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  1. Doublethink  from 1984

The word doublethink was coined by George Orwell in his 1949 timeless masterpiece, 1984. “Doublethink is the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true”. The concept can be best explained as follows,

Early in the book, doublethink refers to the ability to control your memories, to choose to forget something, as well as to forget about the forgetting process. Later on in the novel, as the Party implements its mind-control techniques, people ultimately lose the ability to form independent thoughts. Eventually, it becomes possible for the Party to convince the public of anything, even if it’s the exact opposite of what the public already knows to be true.”

6an earlier cover of the novel along side george orwell


  1. Doormat from Great Expectations

In modern usage, the word is either used literally or as a metaphor. The phrase was first used by Charles Dickens in his classic Great Expectations as “She asked me and Joe whether we supposed she was door-mats under our feet, and how we dared to use her so,”.

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  1. Nerd from If I Ran the Zoo

The first recorded existence of this infamous word is in 1950s children’s book If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss. The novel protagonist is a boy named Gerald McGrew who wishes to transform his boring zoo animals and forms the following scheme, “And then just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo / And bring back an IT-KUTCH, a PREEP, and a PROO, A NERKLE, a NERD, and SEERSUCKER, too!”

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  1. Banana Republic from Cabbages and Kings

The term was coined by O. Henry and first appeared in his 1904 collection of short stories titled Cabbages and Kings. The term is now used to describe a small country that is “politically unstable and has an economy dominated by foreign interest, usually dependent on one export, such as bananas”.

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  1. It was a dark and stormy night from Paul Clifford

Edward Bulwer Lytton “penned a cliché” with his lines “It was a dark and stormy night” which are the opening lines of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The opening line has received mixed reviews since then. However, it has been immortalised by the character Snoopy from the comic strip Peanuts who begins his stories with this line.

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Like always, these are just a few in a list of many.





About the author

Akshita Rawat

I am pursuing English Honours from DCAC. I love reading, occasionally enjoy

painting and a fan of supernatural movies as well as TV shows.

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