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The primrose path is the easy way out of a tough situation. Often, however, the "easy" way isn't really a way out at all, and can lead to bigger problems. For example, smothering your baby because they won't stop crying would be taking the primrose path.

The word primrose is derived from the French word primerole (or primerose, posits conflict), itself a derivation of the Latin word Primula, a biological family of flowers. It includes among other flowers the daisy, cowslip, and yes, the wild rose. So, a primrose path logically is a path of pretty flowers. With bees hidden inside of them.

So who invented this glorious phrase of imminent self-destruction? Why none other than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. The first use of the phrase comes in Hamlet, when Ophelia is speaking to her brother Laertes:

But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

The phrase turns up later (as the "primrose way") in Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3. Shakespeare liked his flowers.

So when someone offers you an easy way out of your lot in life, remember: not everything you do will come out smelling like roses.

Sources

  • http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mprimrose.html
  • the one and only Gritchka

Note: I do not condone smothering babies ... or do I?