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The meaning and origin of the expression: Seen better days

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Seen better days

Meaning

To have been more wealthy or in better condition in former times.

Origin

When it was first coined this phrase referred to people who had fallen on hard times, having previously been wealthy. More recently, the phrase is more often used to describe objects which are worn-out than people who are impoverished.

The line is first recorded in the play Sir Thomas More, 1590:

"Hauing seene better dayes, now know the lack Of glorie that once rearde eche high-fed back."

That work is anonymous but has been, at least in part, attributed to William Shakespeare. Shakespeare certainly did like the line and used it in several plays, for example, Timon of Athens, 1607:

FLAVIUS:
Good fellows all,
The latest of my wealth I'll share amongst you.
Wherever we shall meet, for Timon's sake,
Let's yet be fellows; let's shake our heads, and say,
As 'twere a knell unto our master's fortunes,
'We have seen better days.' Let each take some;
Nay, put out all your hands. Not one word more:
Thus part we rich in sorrow, parting poor.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.