Gild the lily

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Gild the lily is an idiom that is a result of misquoting a famous literary passage. We will look at the meaning of the term gild the lily, where it comes from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Gild the lily describes the process of adorning or embellishing something that is already beautiful or already perfect. The idiom alludes to the fact that the flower of a lily is already perfect and needs no superficial embellishment to enhance it. The term gild the lily comes from a misquoting of Shakespeare. The passage in question comes from Shakespeare’s play King John written in 1595: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily…” This sentiment was misquoted in an allusion to this phrase by the Newark Daily Advocate in 1895, “One may gild the lily and paint the rose…” The more correctly rendered idiom paint the lily was a phrase used as often as the idiom gild the lily during the twentieth century, but the idiom paint the lily has now, for the most part, fallen by the wayside. Related terms are gilds the lily, gilded the lily, gilding the lily.


But there are ways to gild the poultry lily and take that fowl to new heights. (The Mercury News)

Even accounting for a manager’s need to continually gild the lily, Strachan’s take on the campaign to date remains at odds with the consensus. (The Daily Mail)

Last Sunday, as I was hoarding mine, as if it might be lifted by a sweets thief, I spotted the baklava sundae, the epitome of gilding the lily, just as Louise and Andy Watson were headed that way. (The Telegraph)