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."

A similar use of the expression later in the 1920s claimed that it was of Chinese origin which might be behind the general belief that this is one of the many sayings of Confucius, whose words of wisdom have been doing the rounds ever since he first coined them c.500 BC - along with a whole host of other sayings that in all likelihood he had nothing to do with.

It is not entirely clear if there is an Asian expression along these lines, but even if there is, there is no evidence that it traces to Confucius.

What is clear is that variations on this expression long pre-date Barnard's use of it. 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 given that phrases.org.uk were able to dig up 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."

Alphabetical list of expressions

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