The Meanings Behind Gold Idioms

Have you ever heard someone say another has a heart of gold? Many things are said to be worth their weight in gold. Where did these idioms come from, and what exactly do they mean?

Gold Standard

Gold Standard

Image via Flickr by Brian Giesen

Where it started: The gold standard was adopted by most countries in the mid-1800s. This standard stated that if someone wanted to trade in their paper money, it would be backed by the government for the same value in gold. What did this achieve? It helped the people to pay for goods and services without having to haul around tons of heavy metal. The value of the money was real, and everyone knew it.

What it means today: The majority of the countries who had originally adopted this standard let it go by the wayside around the time of World War 1. This helped them pay for the war, which wasn’t cheap. Today, however, the phrase “gold standard” is still heavily used. Today, it means the best of the best; it is the standard by which all others are held. If a product is the gold standard, there is nothing better. This term is used for any items with a wide variance of quality.

All That Glitters is Not Gold

Glittering Gold

Image via Flickr by pnjunction2007

Where it started: Back in the days of the gold rush, there were many people panning for gold all over the world. However, many found pyrite instead of gold. Otherwise known as fool’s gold, this stone was practically worthless. It looked pretty, and even shined much more than authentic gold. Unfortunately, all that meant was that many fell for Mother Nature’s ruse.

What it means today: The phrase “all that glitters is not gold” is used as a cautionary statement. This phrase warns people who even though something looks great that does not mean it is. Things do not have value simply because they are pretty.

Worth its Weight in Gold

Weight in Gold

Image via Flickr by snigl3t

Where it started: This saying has roots back to the Roman Empire. Gold has always been valuable, and because of that, the more you had, the wealthier you were. Of course, the more gold you had, the more it weighed, as well.

What it means today: The meaning hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Today, the phrase “worth its weight in gold” still means that something is very valuable. However, many times the saying is given to things without a tangible value or weight. If someone says, for example, that their education is worth its weight in gold, they simply mean that they feel their schooling was extremely important and valuable to them.

Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold

Image via Flickr by LiNdAZi

Where it started: Gold has symbolized many things to many cultures through history. Some of the most common things it has represented, however, are luxury and nobility. The positive qualities of the metal are what this phrase point toward.

What it means today: If someone is said to have a heart of gold, it means that they are a kind, caring, loving person that puts others ahead of themselves. This harkens back to the meanings originally placed on the metal—all positive attributes in human nature.

There are many idioms that express the value and importance of gold in human history. For many centuries we have been enamored of the metal, and as we continue to value it we continue to use idioms exemplifying gold regularly.

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