A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

Just try to figure out what this means! I have heard this idiom/phrase my entire life and I have yet to make sense of it. Really???

birdWhen I look at the words, I see “a bird in the hand”  and then I look at the second part of the sentence, worth two (birds) in the bush — whatever that means. Two birds on a limb?



So, exactly, what do all these birds mean, and where in the world did the saying come from?

Actually, this saying is cautionary to not count your chickens before they’re hatched (will go into that idiom another day) or simply that it’s better to be content with what you have instead of taking a risk on getting more.

Ah, now I know why that is so hard for me to understand. I am not content with what I have been given in life, never have been,  and I constantly seek to improve what I have (whether it be knowledge or creativity, and of course money, but it’s not about the money, as anyone who is a risk taker will tell you, it’s about the wanting of change). The risk of change, of not knowing what is on the other side and still treading toward it. Not being content with what I have.

So, I wondered where this saying came from, and I found many references to its origin — one was from the 6th century BC (Assyrian) proverbs of Ahigar which referenced the Biblical Book of Proverbs to more recent John Ray’s (Wray) 1670 collection of proverbs in his Handbook of Proverbs.

You need to understand who John Ray was. He was an English naturalist known as a parson-naturalist. This was a person who was country priest who lived in the parish and studied natural sciences as an extension of his religious work. Parson-naturalists gave insights into philosophy and theology as they studied the natural world. Now, I understand how this saying came into being. It is best to control the masses when they are compliant, and how best to be compliant is when you are content with what you have been given and not to look for bettering your life.

Then came Darwin, who originally was studying to be a parson-naturalist when he went aboard the Beagle and changed on how he viewed life. With that voyage he went from being compliant to thinking totally different and changing the world with his theory of Evolution (which we are still debating to this day!)

So, let’s go back to John Ray and being a country priest — mind you, he compiled the book of proverbs, did not write them. I wanted to understand more, not be compliant with this explanation, so I looked at the Biblical Book of Proverbs. Solomon, King of Israel. Ecclesiastes 6:9.

According to bibletools.org Ecclesiates is saying that it is better to have little and enjoy what you have than to dream about much and never attain it. But isn’t that what the American way is? To not be content with what we have. To strive to work hard and to attain. Bibletools.org continues with the explanation by saying that dreaming is not wrong, it’s simply the motivation behind it. It should be for the glory of God and not for the man or himself. Okay, I get that. When a person puts God before himself or a person who is hungry or hurt or without shelter before himself there is a satisfaction that can not be measured, and the funny thing about this is that when I do put God or another before me, goodness comes back to me. I don’t ask for it, it just does. Maybe a smile, maybe a penny from heaven, maybe a kind word. But it is returned.

Then, I found Biblegateway.com and it stated the Living Bible as explaining the proverb/idiom as meaning “mere dreaming of nice things is foolish; it’s chasing the wind.”

Ah. Now I really get it. Those birds that are in the hand and in the bush have to do with dreaming, but not the foolish kind. If you are going to dream, have a plan and go for it. Otherwise, be content with what you have. If you don’t have a plan, you are simply chasing the wind. Which gets you nowhere. Dream big. Plan bigger. Do. And do again until it is reality. And if you are not up to that, then simply be happy with what you have. And that’s okay, too.

And I finally understand this proverb/idiom. And I still don’t like it.

Until Friday … have a great week.






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Filed under idioms, phrases, proverb

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