Go for a song

The idiom go for a song has been in use at least since Shakespeare’s time. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom go for a song, from where this expression is derived, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To go for a song means to be sold be little money, to be bought or sold for much less than the item is worth. The idiom go for a song has been in use since at least the early 1600s, and probably longer. The idiom is found in William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well: “…I know a man that had this tricke of melancholy hold a goodly Mannor for a song.” Around this time, people would sing on the street for pennies. In addition, printed renditions of song ballads were sold at fairs for a very small amount. Both of these facts establish that songs were cheap and plentiful at the time. Related phrases are goes for a song, going for a song, went for a song.


Several analysts argue that much of the worth contained in their empire is linked to their political contacts, and that most of their assets will go for a song. (The Mail and Guardian)

The big car park that hosted a weekend market where knock-off DVDs and perfumes went for a song is now the site of “luxury apartments”. (The Guardian)

A Tour de France yellow jersey purportedly signed by seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of those titles in 2012, went for a song when auctioned at Sotheby’s in London last week – but the Texan’s reaction to the news was priceless. (Road CC Magazine)

Worth $5bn, Beatles catalogue went for a song (The Sydney Morning Herald)

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