Why do we say "Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Are Hatched"?

Well-Known Expressions

Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Are Hatched

Meaning:

Don't make plans that are dependent on something good happening before you know it has actually happened.

Background:

This saying is often attributed to one of Aesop's fables, although like so many of Aesop's stories it is not clear whether this one actually originated with him or has, at some point over the intervening 2500 years, been attributed to him.

The fable goes something like this: A milkmaid has a pail of milk that she plans to sell. She imagines selling the milk for a good price and using the money to buy some eggs, which will then hatch, then she'll raise the chickens and sell them for a good price and buy herself a nice new hat. Unfortunately, she spills the milk and thus all her plans are for naught. Thus the moral of the story is don't count your chickens before they are hatched.

Whenever and wherever it originated, it was definitely in use in the 1600s, as shown by Thomas Howell's New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets (1570), which includes:

Counte not thy Chickens that unhatched be,
Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.

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