What does “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” mean?

Learn the meaning, origins, and modern applications of this common English proverb. Discover why it's better to hold onto what you have than to risk it for something uncertain.

Understanding the Proverb

The idiom “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is a common English proverb that means having something that is certain is better than taking a risk for something that is uncertain.

It is better to hold onto what one already has than to risk losing it by trying to get something better.

The proverb has been in use since the 15th century and is still commonly used today.

Proverb Origins

The origin of the proverb is unclear, but it has been attributed to various sources over the years.

One of the earliest known references to the proverb was made by John Capgrave, a 15th-century English hagiographer, in his “Life of St. Katherine.” The proverb was also included in John Ray’s “A Hand-Book of Proverbs” in 1670 and later in John Heywood’s “Proverbs” in 1546.

Literal and Figurative Meanings

The literal meaning of the proverb is that a bird that is already in one’s hand is worth more than two birds that are still in the bush.

However, the proverb is usually used in a figurative sense to mean that it is better to hold onto what one already has than to risk losing it by trying to get something better.

Applications in Modern Context

The proverb is still commonly used today in a variety of contexts.

For example, it can be used to encourage people to be content with what they have and not to take unnecessary risks.

It can also be used to caution people against making rash decisions that could lead to negative consequences.

Cultural Variations and Translations

The proverb has been translated into many different languages and has variations in different cultures.

In French, for example, the proverb is “un tiens vaut mieux que deux tu l’auras,” which means “one that you have is worth more than two that you will have.” In Spanish, the proverb is “más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando,” which means “a bird in hand is worth more than a hundred flying.”

Definition, Examples, and Synonyms

  • Definition: Having something that is certain is better than taking a risk for something that is uncertain.
  • Example 1: “I know you want to invest in that new startup, but remember, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
  • Example 2: “I’m not going to quit my job until I have a new one lined up. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
  • Example 3: “I could try to sell my car for more money, but I don’t want to risk losing the buyer I already have. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
  • Synonyms: “A sure thing is better than a gamble,” “Better safe than sorry,” “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”