Saturday, September 3, 2016

Proverbs, Part 1

A short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice.
- Oxford Dictionary

The study of proverbs and of proverb lore.
- Oxford Dictionary

Today is the first part of an ongoing look at the meanings and origins of proverbs in the English language. 

As son Thomas used to write at the end of his assignments when very young “I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.”

bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.


It is better to have an advantage or opportunity that is certain than having one that is worth more but is not so certain.

Modern day equivalent: A hair on your head is worth two on the brush.

  • It is commonly thought that the proverb dates from the days of falconry, a bird in the hand (the falcon) being worth more than two birds in the bush (the prey).
  • It’s use, however, dates from days much earlier and even from different cultures.
  • A near equivalent from the East appears in the 6th century BC Proverbs of Ahiqar: 'a sparrow in thy hand is better than a thousand sparrows flying'.
  • The earliest English version of the proverb is from the Bible and was translated into English in Wycliffe's version in 1382: “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” – Ecclesiastes 9:4
  • John Heywood, the 16th century collector of proverbs, recorded in 1546 the proverb "Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood."
  • In 1743, the town of Bird in Hand was established in Pennsylvania. 
The legend of the naming of Bird-in-Hand concerns the time when the Old Philadelphia Pike was surveyed between Lancaster and Philadelphia. According to legend two road surveyors discussed whether they should stay at their present location or go on to the town of Lancaster. One of them supposedly said, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," which means it is preferable to have a small but certain advantage than the mere potential of a greater one; and so they stayed. By 1734, road surveyors were making McNabb’s hotel their headquarters rather than returning to Lancaster every day. The sign in front of the inn is known to have once "portrayed a man with a bird in his hand and a bush nearby, in which two birds were perched," and was known as the Bird-in-Hand Inn. Variations of this sign appear throughout the town today.  
- Wikipedia
  • Drinking toast
Here’s to America,
The land of the push,
Where a bird in the hand
Is worth two in the bush. 
Here’s to Australia,
My own native land,
Where a push in the bush
Is worth two in the hand. 

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.


An organisation (especially a process or a business) is only as strong or powerful as its weakest person. A group of associates is only as strong as its laziest member.

  • The earliest recorded usage of something similar is Thomas Reid’s 1786 statement in his “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man”: “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.”
  • C. Kingley stated in a letter dated December 1, 1856: “The devil is very busy, and no one knows better than he that nothing is stronger than its weakest part.”
  • Cornhill Magazine published an article in 1868 that contained this bit of advice: “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; but if you show how admirably the last few are united … half the world will forget to the security of the … parts which are kept out of sight.”

A good man is hard to find.


Good men are scarce.

  • A precursor from The Bible, Micah 7:2 (King James Version):
The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.
  • The actual phrase comes from a 1918 song by Eddie Green, A Good Man Is Hard To Find. The song’s lyrics also contain the saying:
A good man is hard to find
You always get the other kind
Just when you think that he is your pal
You look for him and find him fooling 'round some other gal
Then you rave, you even crave
To see him laying in his grave
So, if your man is nice, take my advice and hug him in the morning, kiss him ev'ry night,
Give him plenty lovin', treat him right
For a good man nowadays is hard to find, a good man nowadays is hard to find.
  • Mae West famously restated the proverb:

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