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Why do we say "The early bird catches the worm"?

Well-Known Expressions

The early bird catches the worm


The person who arrives first or prepares early succeeds


The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary cites the first recorded use of this expression being in William Camden's 1605 collection of proverbs. Other sources place the first recorded use in John Ray's collection of proverbs some decades later in 1670. Either way, it's safe to assume that, to be part of a collection of proverbs, the expression was well established by the 17th century.

What is perhaps more interesting is the source of the modern day expression, "early bird special". According to language expert Barry Popik, the first record dates to Oregon in 1904 when the department store Olds, Wortman & King advertised a special sale on men's summer underwear. By the 1920s the early bird special had gained popularity but was mainly used to promote the sale of merchandise and "early bird breakfasts". In the 1950s, the expression migrated to the evening meal, and by the 1980s it was popular enough to make it into an episode of The Golden Girls, set in Miami, Florida:

Dorothy: "Morning, Ma. Working on the crossword puzzle?"
Sophia: "Nope. Just lining up a few dates. Let's see. 'Maria Malanero, survived by her husband Tony Malanero.'"
Dorothy: "You're getting dates out of the obituaries? That's sick."
Sophia: "It is not sick. It's practical. Life is for the living. Maria's loss is my date for the Early Bird Special."

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