Every wondered what the Saying a Bird in the Hand means? Plus also where did this saying come from? It’s a saying we have heard again and again all of our lives. Yet never stopped to think what it actually meant and where it came from.
The saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is an old proverb that dates back to medieval times. It was first recorded in English in the 15th century and has been in use ever since.
What Does A Bird In The Hand Mean?
The proverb essentially means that it’s better to have a small but certain advantage. Than to risk losing it by trying to get something better that may not materialize. The “bird in the hand” represents something that you already have and can rely on, while the “two in the bush” represents something that you could potentially have, but it’s uncertain and risky. The saying is a warning to be grateful for what we have and to avoid being too greedy or ambitious.
Some better known examples, similar proverbs and common sayings giving such advice include
- “All that Glitters is not Gold”
- “The Grass is not always greener”
- “Count your blessings”
- “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
- “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
- “When you focus on the good, the good gets better.”
- “The happiest people don’t have everything, they make the best of everything they have.”
- “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
- “A living dog is better than a dead lion.”
- “Better is a sparrow held tight in the hand than a thousand birds flying about in the air.”
- “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.”
Where Does The Saying Come From?
The origins of the proverb are unclear, but it may have been inspired by hunting. In medieval times, hunting and falconry, where birds of prey were a popular pastime among the aristocracy.
A falcon that had been caught and was in the hunter’s hand was a certain prize, while the possibility of catching two birds that were still in the bushes was uncertain.
Some also believe it is an ancient Greek Proverb.
Regardless of its origins, the saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” has become a common idiom in English and is still used today to encourage caution and a preference for certainty over risk.
There is also a similar prover in the Czech language, “A sparrow in the fist is better than a pigeon on the roof.”
Where Was The Phrase First Heard?
The earliest written record of the phrase is from a book called “The Life of St Katherine” by a writer named John Capgrave, which was written in the mid-14th century. In the book, Shoreham writes;
“A bird in hand ys better than thre that may flye”. “It is more sekyr (certain) a byrd in your fest, Than to haue three in the sky a‐boue.”
John Heywood’s 1546 glossary A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue also includes a variant of the proverb: Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood. This suggests that the phrase was already well-known at the time.
However in its current form the first use of the phrase was in 1670 in “A Hand-book of Proverbs” by John Ray.The phrase continued to be used throughout the centuries, and it has become one of the most well-known and widely-used idioms in the English language.
It is often used to encourage caution and to remind people that it is often better to be satisfied with what they have, rather than to take unnecessary risks.
More Bird In The Hand Facts
The Bird in Hand was adopted as a pub name in England in the Middle Ages and many pubs of of this name still survive, we counted 20 Bird in the Hand pubs in the UK alone.
English migrants took the expression to America and in 1734 a small town in Pennsylvania was founded with that very name.
And there you have it, a fascinating insight to what this age old saying means and where it came from. Check for more English proverbs and sayings. and ancient Greek proverbs.