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Why do we say "A picture is worth a thousand words"?

Well-Known Expressions

A picture is worth a thousand words


Visual images have greater impact than words


Many sources attribute this expression to Frederick R. Barnard, who published a 1921 article on the effectiveness of graphics in advertising with the title, "One look is worth a thousand words." Barnard, in turn, attributed the expression to "a Japanese philosopher."

In 1927, Printers Ink, a trade magazine for the advertising industry, wrote: "Chinese proverb. One picture is worth ten thousand words," but there is no evidence that it is of Chinese origin, nor for the more specific claims that it originates with Confucius.

What is clear is that variations existed long before Barnard. For example:

"One timely deed is worth ten thousand words." - James Thomson (18th century poet)

"That tear, good girl, is worth, ten thousand words." - The Trust: A Comedy, in Five Acts by Charles Breck (1808).

"The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book." - Fathers and Sons by Ivan S. Turgenev, 1862

It seems that Bernard did not even originate the particular version of the phrase that we use today, as cites an earlier usage in the form of a March 1911 instructional talk given by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane to the Syracuse Advertising Men's Club, in which he encourages his audience to, "use a picture. It's worth a thousand words."

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