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

Well-Known Expressions

A picture is worth a thousand words

Meaning:

Visual images have greater impact than words

Background:

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

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...
  • Book Jacket: Foster
    Foster
    by Claire Keegan
    Irish author Claire Keegan is experiencing a surge in popularity, thanks to the selection of her ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Cradles of the Reich
by Jennifer Coburn
Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Izquierdo
    by Rubén Degollado

    A masterful debut that weaves together the lives of three generations of a Mexican American family bound by love, and a curse.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.