primrose path

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Coined by William Shakespeare in 1609 in "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," act 1, scene 3:

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads



primrose path (plural primrose paths)

  1. An easy and pleasant life; a self-indulgent or hedonistic life; such a life that leads to damnation.
  2. A deceptively easy or appealing course of action that leads one astray or into error.
    • 1986, Stuart Shanker, Philosophy in Britain Today, page 118:
      The route from the desire for rationality via the desire for objectivity to descriptivism is a well trodden one; but it is nevertheless a primrose path; for, as we shall see, it leads those who follow it into one or another form of relativism, which is precisely what these thinkers are trying to avoid. They can only avoid it by retracing their steps.
      This primrose path starts from the assumption that the only way to achieve rationality is to secure objectivity.
    • 2003, Loretta A. Malandro, Say It Right the First Time, page 113:
      The meanings of words are obscure enough, without adding language that results in reactions and misunderstandings. By using jargon, clichés, exaggeration, and unnecessary words, we will be led down the primrose path of misdirection.
    • 2011, Margaret Brennan Bermel, The Cancer Odyssey, page 40:
      The oncologist may hand you the drug information booklet (as is legally required), and then tell you not to read the information too closely because it may scare you. Do not be led down the primrose path. Read the booklet.
  3. (euphemistic) The life of prostitution.
    • 1902, George Bernard Shaw, The Author's Apology, in (1902 edition of) Mrs Warren's Profession, 2006 Gutenberg eBook edition,
      Even if these purely official catastrophes carried any conviction, the majority of English girls remain so poor, so dependent, so well aware that the drudgeries of such honest work as is within their reach are likely enough to lead them eventually to lung disease, premature death, and domestic desertion or brutality, that they would still see reason to prefer the primrose path to the strait path of virtue, since both, vice at worst and virtue at best, lead to the same end in poverty and overwork.
    • 1940 March 25, “Movie of the Week: Primrose Path”, in Life, page 48:
      She is now, at the age of 17, faced with turning from the straight and narrow path she has so far trod to the primrose path of her mother and grandmother.
    • 2002, Bernhard A. Baur, editor, Encyclopaedic Study of Woman and Love, page 381:
      There is one thing that male citizens must note. They must not give countenance to prostitution ; they must not demand the commodity and thus increase the supply; they must not tread the primrose path and contract venereal disease and then spread it. Men too must show a conscience in the matter.