Pound of Flesh | Meaning & Example Sentences

The idiom pound of flesh refers to an unreasonable demand or payment that could cause the person paying great distress. “Pound of flesh” is one of many terms coined by William Shakespeare.

In the Shakespearean play The Merchant of Venice, a debt collector named Shylock demands a pound of flesh from a merchant in retribution for his cruelty. He explains, “A pound of flesh, which I demand from him, / Is dearly bought; ‘tis mine and I will have it.”

Examples: Pound of flesh in a sentence
Ticket companies never miss a chance to take their pound of flesh in service fees and taxes.

My older brother has taken a pound of flesh from me over the years, threatening to break my stuff if I didn’t do what he wanted.

I gave a pound of flesh to the bank when I was hit with another overdraft fee.

How to use pound of flesh

“Pound of flesh” is used when you’re referencing an unfair, but legal, deal. Nowadays, it doesn’t mean a literal pound of flesh (unlike in The Merchant of Venice), but rather a large sum of money that will cause distress to the person paying it.

For example, a company or institution may be accused of taking a pound of flesh if it is price gouging its customers. A less tangible thing, like some sort of addiction, may also be said to take a pound of flesh. In that case, the pound of flesh isn’t monetary but rather holds some other value (e.g., “My sister’s addiction to substances is taking its pound of flesh from her”).

The phrase “pound of flesh” is usually preceded by the indefinite article “a” or by a possessive determiner such as “their” or “its.”

Examples: Pound of flesh in a sentence
The whiskey took its pound of flesh from my neighbor; he lost his wife, his house, and his dignity.

I paid a pound of flesh in Vegas because I couldn’t stop gambling.

Gail lost a pound of flesh on a bet with her nephew.

Frequently asked questions about pound of flesh

Which of Shakespeare’s plays involves a pound of flesh?

The Merchant of Venice is the play in which Shylock demands a pound of flesh from a merchant. “Pound of flesh” has since become a well-known idiom meaning an unreasonable demand.

What is the origin of a pound of flesh?

A “pound of flesh” comes from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. A debt collector named Shylock requests a pound of flesh from a merchant as payment for treating him poorly. While the demand was hefty, it was fair according to their contract.

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Paige Pfeifer, BA

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.