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Why do we say "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"?

Well-Known Expressions

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush


It's better to possess something tangible now than to hold out for something potentially better in the future.


In English, variations on this proverb have been traced back to the mid 15th century. The first known use being in The Life of St Katherine by J Capgrave (1450):

"It is more sekyr a byrd in your fest, Than to haue three in the sky a-boue."

But earlier usage can be found in Latin dating back to at least the 13th century: Plus valet in manibus avis unica quam dupla silvis ('a bird in the hands is worth more than two in the woods'); and The Phrase Finder points to the 7th century Aramaic Story of Ahikar which includes the sentiment (translated into modern English): "Better is a sparrow held tight in the hand than a thousand birds flying about in the air."

While lacking references to birds, there are earlier proverbs that caution against abandoning what you have for what you don't, such as a line in Plutarch's Moralia that translates "He is a fool who leaves things close at hand to follow what is out of reach."

Plutarch (c. AD 46 - c. 120) was a Roman citizen of Greek origin who is remembered today primarily for his two surviving works: Parallel Lives, a series of 48 paired biographies of famous men, one Greek and one Roman, who followed similar paths, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, and Demetrius and Mark Anthony; and Moralia, a collection of 78 essays and speeches.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Voted 2022 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. Geraldine Brooks creates a ...
  • Book Jacket: In Love
    In Love
    by Amy Bloom
    Voted 2022 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. In 2019, author Amy Bloom and her...
  • Book Jacket: Remarkably Bright Creatures
    Remarkably Bright Creatures
    by Shelby Van Pelt
    Voted 2022 Best Debut Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel, ...

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    The debut novel of a gifted storyteller who has become a sensation in her native South Africa.


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Book Jacket
Cradles of the Reich
by Jennifer Coburn
Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.
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