What Does All That Glitters Is Not Gold Mean?

All That Glitters Is Not Gold Meaning

Definition: Just because something (or someone) appears to be good or valuable does not mean that it (or one) truly is.

The proverb all that glitters is not gold means that something may not be as beneficial or as valuable as it appears. This common phrase can refer to people or objects.

Origin of All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Shakespeare is responsible for coining this proverb. It first appeared in his play The Merchant of Venice, first published in 1596,

  • There is a written scroll! I’ll read the writing. / All that glitters is not gold.

every glitter is not goldIn the original version of the play, glitter was spelled as glister, which is an antiquated word that has the same meaning as glitter. How and why glister evolved into glitter is unclear.

Although Shakespeare created the proverb as we know it today, he was not the first to express the idea that some things are not as good as they appear to be, or to use gold to illustrate it.

Alain de Lille used gold in the same context in the 12th century:

  • Do not hold everything gold that shines like gold.

Examples of All That Glitters Is Not Gold

not all that glitters is goldSince it is a proverb, this phrase is not typically used in everyday, spoken English. That said, this proverb is commonly used in writing and is universally recognized.

This sample exchange between a teacher and his student shows how this proverb could be used in speech.

Mr. Peterson: I heard some of your friends got arrested for theft the other day.

Brandon: They’re innocent. They were framed.

Mr. Peterson: Be careful who you surround yourself with. All that glitters is not gold.

More Examples

  • But not all that glitters turns out to be gold, bronze or silver for other Olympic winners. Many don’t see big paydays. –The Washington Post
  • And as many fairytale heroines have found, all that glitters is not really gold. –Tucson Weekly

Summary

The English proverb all that glitters is not gold refers to someone or something that may not be as valuable or as good as he/she/it first appears to be.