The Origins Of The Phrase "Silver Lining"

If you've ever tried to find a hint of positivity and light in a fog of malaise or misfortune, perhaps you've heard the phrase "silver lining." But have you ever wondered where it originated? As it turns out, the phrase "silver lining" references a rather literal kind of silver lining — one that has its roots in the moon.

The term "silver linings" seemingly originated in 1634, per Vocabulary, in a poem called "Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle" by the poet John Milton. In the poem, Milton writes, "Was I deceived? or did a sable cloud/Turn forth her silver lining on the night?" In Milton's poem, the "silver lining" references moonlight shining through a cloud, setting its edges aglow — a sight you can look up at the sky and see today if you ever find yourself in need of a little hope in a time of darkness.

The poem "Comus" was written in honor of John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater, in celebration of the earl becoming lord president of Wales, according to Britannica. The poem explores the contrasts between good and evil, a theme that Milton would infamously go on to explore in his epic poem "Paradise Lost."

In the poem, a lady becomes lost in the woods and is discovered by the sorcerer Comus, wicked son of Bacchus and Circe, who attempts to corrupt her as she sings the praises of goodness and chastity.

The rise of the phrase "Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining"

That line from Milton's "Comus" inspired the proverb "every cloud has a silver lining," which likely first appeared in print in "The Dublin Magazine" in 1840, in a review of Mrs. S. Hall's book "Marian, or a Young Maid's Fortune," which featured the line, "As Katty Macane has it, 'there's a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it,'" according to Phrases.

Then in 1849, the "New Monthly Belle Assemblée" published a review of the same book in which they printed the phrase "every cloud has a silver lining." That was actually a misquote from "Marian," according to Phrases, but the proverb stuck and soon became part of the English lexicon.

The phrase was popularized by the writer Sarah Payton Parton, the editor of the magazine "Home Journals," who wrote under the pseudonym "Fanny Fern," according to Shannon Selin. Parton, a single mother who escaped from a bad marriage and had to support two children, found a silver lining in her writing. According to Phrases, in 1853, she published an essay called "Nil desperandum," which used the quote "Every cloud has a silver lining; and He who wove it knows when to turn it out. So, after every night, however long or dark, there shall yet come a golden morning." 

Today, the phrase "silver lining" is relevant anytime you need to find a sliver of light in a dark situation or a spot of hope amidst a challenging situation, making it a powerful mantra to repeat and carry with you as you traverse life's challenging yet beautiful terrain.