wear something on one's sleeve

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This phrase may derive from a mediaeval custom at jousting matches. Knights are said to have worn the colours of the lady they were supporting, in cloths or ribbons tied to their arms.

The term does not date from that period though, and is first recorded in Shakespeare's Othello, 1604, in which the treacherous Iago's plan was to feign openness and vulnerability in order to appear faithful[1].


wear something on one's sleeve (third-person singular simple present wears something on one's sleeve, present participle wearing something on one's sleeve, simple past wore something on one's sleeve, past participle worn something on one's sleeve)

  1. To express an emotion, belief, or stance overtly and make it an important part of one's public life.
    • 2008 June 25, Neela Banerjee, “Religion and Its Role Are in Dispute at the Service Academies”, in New York Times[1]:
      But religion is the one thing they encourage you to wear on your sleeve.
    • 2008 June 28, Art Winslow, “Ethan Canin's "America, America"”, in Chicago Tribune[2], archived from the original on 2009-05-21:
      While he may wear his idealism and good-heartedness on his shirt sleeve, his passion is exuded more as an intellectualized than as a deeply felt quality. In modulating his voice, that is, Canin has chosen a character whose temperance might be admirable among the living but is less engaging when encountered in literature.

Related terms[edit]



  1. ^
    c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, (please specify the scene number in lowercase Roman numerals)]:
    It is sure as you are Roderigo,
    Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
    In following him, I follow but myself;
    Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
    But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
    For when my outward action doth demonstrate
    The native act and figure of my heart
    In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
    But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
    For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.