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Why do we say "Patience is a virtue"?

Well-Known Expressions

Patience is a virtue


To be able to wait for something without becoming frustrated is a valuable character trait.


"Patience is a virtue" is a proverb, which is a short statement that expresses a culturally accepted truth. In this case, the phrase conveys the idea that accepting delayed gratification is a socially desirable trait.

The idea that patience is a good trait to cultivate has been around for a very long time. Some of the earliest written references to the concept are in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, thought to have been compiled during the reign of Solomon (1015-975 BCE) but likely much older, based on oral tradition. Patience is also praised in the New Testament, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tipitaka, and other religious scriptures created throughout the ages.

Equating patience with virtue may hale back to the Latin text, Distichs of Cato. This collection of proverbs, written around the 2nd or 3rd century, was commonly used as a Latin primer through the 18th century. In it, the unnamed author writes, “Of human virtues, patience is most great." Geoffrey Chaucer relied heavily on this work for his Canterbury Tales (c.1400CE). In The Franklin’s Tale his narrator states, “Pacience is an heigh vertu” (translating to “patience is a high virtue” or “patience is a conquering virtue”).

Another work often credited with originating the phrase “patience is a virtue” is Piers Plowman, written by English poet William Langland. The work, penned in 1360 CE, has the titular character, an exceptionally moral man, leading several individuals on a quest for moral enlightenment, and contains the line “patience is a fair virtue.”

Thomas Chalkley (1675-1741), a Quaker minister in Philadelphia, is believed to be the first American to use this phrase in his writing. It occurs in his 1724 Works of Thomas Chalkley.

Not everyone is on board with believing patience to be a desirable trait, however. Some feel that others use it as an excuse for inaction or laziness. And, as Chelsea Clinton has stated, “Patience is a virtue, but impatience gets things done.”

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