What Does “Bird in the Hand” Mean?

Discover the true understanding and origins of the proverb 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'. Learn why it's better to be certain than risk losing. Synonyms: 'Better safe than sorry', 'A sure thing', 'Don't count your chickens before they hatch'.

Understanding the Proverb

Definition and Meaning

The proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” means that it is better to have something that is certain than to risk losing it by trying to get something else that may be better but is uncertain.

The phrase refers to the idea that a bird that is already caught and in your hand is more valuable than two birds that are still in the bush and may or may not be caught.

Origin and History

The origins of this proverb are unclear, but it has been used in English since at least the 16th century.

It is believed to have been derived from an ancient story of Ahikar, a wise man in the court of the Assyrian king, who advised his nephew to “take a bird in the hand” rather than risk losing it by trying to catch two birds in the bush.

The story was later retold in the medieval period by John Capgrave and John Heywood.

Example Sentences

  • “I think I’ll accept the job offer I have now instead of waiting for a better one. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
  • “I’m not going to sell my car just because I might be able to get a better one later. A bird in the hand, you know.”
  • “The company’s profits may not be great, but at least they’re stable. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say.”

Do “Bird in the Hand” and “Pie in the Sky” Have Similar Meanings or Origins?

The “bird in the hand” and the meaning of “pie in the sky” are both idiomatic expressions, but they have different origins and meanings. “Bird in the hand” refers to having something tangible and certain, while the meaning of “pie in the sky” refers to unattainable or unrealistic promises.

Synonyms