Proverb Origins – A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Proverbs have been a part of our lives, every now and then. Since childhood, we are accustomed with varied proverbs, as our elders preached us those in situations like- new day at school, punctuality, when we made mistakes, and so on. They are indeed an integral part of our lives and have influenced us till today. They are like those poignant and profound meaningful phrases which are wise and full of lessons.

I, myself, loved to write essays and articles on Proverbs and they inspired me in writing some intellectual articles for my college magazine too. Some time back, I stumbled on the meanings and origins of sayings and proverbs and they interested me BIG TIME. So, I thought of sharing them with my readers every now and then, and feel they would be an interesting read for them too!

Today’s Proverb is

 A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Meaning

It is better to have a lesser yet certain advantage at something, than the possibility of a greater one that may come to nothing.

Origin

This proverb refers back to medieval falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was a valuable asset and certainly worth more than two in the bush (the prey).

The first citation of the expression in print in its currently used form is found in John Ray’s A Hand-book of Proverbs, 1670, in which he lists it as:

A [also ‘one’] bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

By how long the phrase predates Ray’s publishing isn’t clear, as variants of it were known for centuries before 1670. The earliest English version of the proverb is from the Bible and was translated into English in Wycliffe’s version in 1382, although Latin texts have it from the 13th century:

Ecclesiastes IX – A living dog is better than a dead lion.

Alternatives that explicitly mention birds in hand come later. The earliest of those is in Hugh Rhodes’ The Boke of Nurture or Schoole of Good Maners, circa 1530:

“A byrd in hand – is worth ten flye at large.”

John Heywood, the 16th century collector of proverbs, recorded another version in his ambitiously titled A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

“Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood.”

The expression fits well into the catalog of English proverbs, which are often warnings, especially warnings about hubris or risk taking. Some of the better known examples that warn against getting carried away by that exciting new prospect are: ‘All that glitters is not gold’, ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’, ‘Look before you leap’, ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure’, ‘The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley’.

The Bird in Hand was adopted as a pub name in England in the Middle Ages and many of this name still survive.

English migrants to America took the expression with them and ‘bird in hand’ must have been known there by 1734 as this was the year in which a small town in Pennsylvania was founded with that name.

Other languages and cultures have their own version of this proverb, notably the Czech ‘Lepsi vrabec v hrsti nez holub na strese’ (A sparrow in the fist is better than a pigeon on the roof).

Content Courtesy: Phrases.Org.Uk

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