Gild The Lily

Meaning of Idiom ‘Gild the Lily’

To gild the lily means to add unnecessary decoration or exaggeration to something that is almost perfect the way it is. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.,3Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.


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Usage

This idiom is used in varying contexts such as to describe adding unnecessary adornment to oneself or one’s clothing; or to exaggerating one’s accomplishments; or to exaggerating a point or argument that is already well made, especially when such exaggeration is dishonest.

Examples of Use

“Putting a garish paint job on such a beautiful car is gilding the lily, don’t you think?”

“For someone born into money, as was Mr. Washington, an Ivy League education was merely gilding the lily. A way to get ahead.”

“The inventor couldn’t resist gilding the lily and claimed that his machine would not only do the work of a man but could replace human beings altogether.”

Gild the lily idiom meaning

Origin

Gilding the lily is a shortened version of a phrase used in Shakespeare’s King John:

“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily… Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

To gild means to apply a thin layer of gold to wood, glass, or other material. To paint a lily, an already beautiful flower, would be silly. The idiom has combined the first part of Shakespeare’s line to the last part but the meaning is still exactly the same. To apply gold to a lily would be just as ridiculous as painting it.

The expression has been used since the late 1700’s but became popular during the 1800’s. 4Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,5Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2, 5. Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.
3. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.