pound of flesh


noun

something that is one's legal right but is an unreasonable demand (esp in the phrase to have one's pound of flesh)

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Word Origin for pound of flesh

from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1596), Act IV, scene i
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for pound of flesh (1 of 2)

pound of flesh

Creditors who insist on having their “pound of flesh” are those who cruelly demand the repayment of a debt, no matter how much suffering it will cost the debtor: “The bank will have its pound of flesh; it is going to foreclose on our mortgage and force us to sell our home.” The expression is from The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare.

Cultural definitions for pound of flesh (2 of 2)

pound of flesh

A phrase from the play The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare. The moneylender Shylock demands the flesh of the “merchant of Venice,” Antonio, under a provision in their contract. Shylock never gets the pound of flesh, however, because the character Portia discovers a point of law that overrides the contract: Shylock is forbidden to shed any blood in getting the flesh from Antonio's body.

notes for pound of flesh

People who cruelly or unreasonably insist on their rights are said to be demanding their “pound of flesh.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with pound of flesh

pound of flesh

A debt whose payment is harshly insisted on, as in The other members of the cartel all want their pound of flesh from Brazil. This expression alludes to the scene in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (4:1) where the moneylender Shylock demands the pound of flesh promised him in payment for a loan, and Portia responds that he may have it but without an ounce of blood (since blood was not promised). [c. 1600]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.