What Does Fool’s Gold Mean?

Fool’s Gold Meaning

Definition: Something that appears valuable or something that someone thinks is valuable but, in reality, is worthless.

Origin of Fool’s Gold

The literal meaning of fool’s gold is a mineral called iron pyrite. This mineral looks shiny and beautiful, and people who aren’t familiar with the differences between the two often mistake it for gold.

While gold is very expensive and in high demand, iron pyrite is not equally valuable, despite having various uses.

Over time, the nickname for this mineral came to be used to describe anything that initially appeared to be important or valuable but was nothing special.

Examples of Fool’s Gold

fools gold rockIn this example, a young woman and her mother use the idiom in a conversation.

Daughter: I have some big news to tell you.

Mother: What is it?

Daughter: I got engaged!

Mother: Oh my goodness! Let me see the ring!

Daughter: Here it is.

Mother: Wow, that diamond is huge!

Daughter: I know. Actually, it’s just cubic zirconia, but my fiancé will replace it with a real diamond once he gets a promotion at work.

Mother: Cubic zirconia? You mean it’s a fake diamond? Your fiancé gave you fool’s gold for a ring!

Daughter: It’s just temporary.

fools gold nycIn this example, two coworkers use the expression in a conversation about a promotion.

Dave: I can’t believe they promoted you! I thought you were getting fired.

Ben: I was surprised too.

Dave: Well, congratulations on your promotion!

Ben: Actually, it’s not that great. The promotion is like fool’s gold. It looks good on paper, but, in reality, I have more responsibilities and no extra pay. I guess it’s better than being fired though.

More Examples

In this Washington Post article, the author uses the idiom to describe initiatives in economics that appear good but end up not working.

  • Development economics is a field of study filled with fool’s gold. Time and time again, programs are introduced to end poverty only to result in, well, about the same amount of poverty. –Washington Post

In this example, the idiom describes soil that at first seemed valuable to farmers but quickly turned out not to be useful.

  • But the rich peat that was revealed was mostly fool’s gold. The nutrients in the peat were quickly depleted by intensive agriculture, and the water, which could have helped replace the nutrients, was no longer flowing over the landscape as it had before. –Washington Post


The phrase fool’s gold is a way to describe something that, despite its appearances, is not valuable or authentic.