The Grammarphobia Blog

Salad days or cake days?

Q: While searching through piles of paper, I came upon a picture of me as a child and remarked, “Those were the salad days.” Why do we refer to youth as “salad days”? Why not “cake days”?

A: The expression “salad days,” like so many others, comes to us from Shakespeare. In act 1, scene 5 of Antony and Cleopatra (1606), Cleopatra regrets her carefree, youthful affair with Caesar:

My salad days,
When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,
To say as I said then!

The word “green,” by the way, had been used for centuries before Shakespeare to refer to youth and inexperience (think of the green shoots of a plant in the spring).

The expression “salad days” appears to have fallen out of favor after Shakespeare, but it was revived in the 19th century. Although Shakespeare used the phrase to refer to a time of carefree innocence, it’s often used now to refer to a time when someone was at a peak of success.

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