Category Archives: proverb

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 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. 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 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.






Leave a comment

Filed under idioms, phrases, proverb

A Miss is as Good as a Mile

“Close But No Cigar” gave me another request — “A Miss is as Good as a Mile Except in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”, and again, I never heard this phrase before it was brought to my attention.

This proverb originated in England, and is in the same category as “Close But No Cigar” and “Almost Doesn’t Count”, meaning that a failure is still a failure no matter how close you come to the finish line. Or is it?

Originally, the proverb “A Miss is as Good as a Mile” was Americanized in 1788 from William Camden’s Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning Britaine, 1614,

“an inche is a miss is as good as an ell”

(ell equals almost 45 inches in old English measures). So what it is saying is that it doesn’t matter how much you miss by, you still miss. Now Americanize it, modernize it and throw in a few more words — “Except in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades” and we see that sometimes the miss is not a complete failure.

horseshoe-hitch-1For instance, take playing horseshoes. When the pitch is made, it is the closest horseshoe to the target that wins; therefore, not all misses are created equal, not all failures are created equal. Jim Kaat, Minnesota Twins Pitcher in 1967, was the first to add to the original phrase, and Frank Robinson, playing for both the Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds during his career,  quoted in Time Magazine 7/31/1973, followed suit by saying, “Close don’t count in baseball. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

Which brings me to hand grenades. Hey, folks, these are deadly, so if the hand grenade must be thrown, really aim for that target although close enough will still do the job. Like I said, they are mostly deadly and certainly maiming.

Sure, there are some games, some life rules that dictate a failure is still a failure, but there are times when it’s not about failure, it’s about playing the game and getting as close as you can get to the finish line to be the winner. That is the mentality of shoot for the moon and consider yourself lucky when you land on a star. Go for it (your dream) but sometimes you are still a winner when you get close to your target without actually being first.

Until Friday…have a great week…

Leave a comment

Filed under phrases, proverb

There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

gteorq8rcPoor fella. He thinks he’s getting skinned — you know, have the skin being taken from his back. But that just isn’t so. This proverb or idiom has nothing to do with a cat or getting skinned. So, what does it actually mean?

When there is more than one way to skin a cat there are more than one way to accomplish a goal. Take, for instance, that you want to have a college degree but you have no money to acquire the degree, and you do not have the grades or the athletic prowess to gain a scholarship. You simply want to go to school. What to do, what to do?

There are many ways to follow the path to get a college degree. You could work full-time and take a course or two at a time, but this should take you a very, very long time to gain your desire. You could work part-time and take three or four courses at a time; now, you will reach your goal faster than the first option. You could work for a corporation that pays for your classes as you work for them (I did this when I worked on my master’s degree). You could join the military and take classes as you work for the government or take part in the benefits they offer after so many years of service. You could apply for scholarships that are seldom tapped into or apply for a grant. Of course, there are also loans, but then you end up paying for that degree for years to come.

Also, today there are a myriad of ways to obtain the bachelor’s degree. You can get the credits traditionally by going to a classroom. Then, there are online courses through the college close to you, or there are entire degrees that you could earn in the comfort of your home. Further along in your pursuit of the almighty degree, you might come across a college where you get credit for life experience.

In other words, there are many ways to achieve your goal: there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

If you think about it, there are many ways to obtain most goals — from dieting to exercising to saving money to traveling. It’s all in how you go about it, how you look at the problem to find a solution.

Until next week…have a great weekend…



Leave a comment

Filed under idioms, proverb