Why do we say "There is many a slip between cup and lip"?

Well-Known Expressions

There is many a slip between cup and lip


Nothing is certain until it is completed


The earliest surviving record of this expression in English is in R. Taverner's 1539 Proverbs of Erasmus. But variants of the expression date back to ancient times, such as in the writing of author and grammarian Aulus Gellius, who in the 2nd century AD recorded the use of the proverb, "much there is between cup and the tip of the lip."

One possible origin for the expression is said to be a comment by a seer who told Ancaeus (who, according to Greek mythology, set out with Jason to find the Golden Fleece) that he would never taste wine from his newly planted vineyard. When Ancaeus returned from the quest he filled a cup of wine and reproached the seer for the false prophecy, to which the seer responded with the proverb. At that moment, an alarm went out that a wild boar was in the vineyard. Ancaeus rushed out, leaving his drink untouched, and was summarily killed by the boar.

Another possible source of the proverb is found in Homer's Odyssey, where Odysseus kills Antinous who "was on the point of raising to his lips a fair goblet, a two-eared cup of gold, and was even now handling it, that he might drink of the wine, and death was not in his thoughts." (from A.T. Murray's English translation of the Odyssey).

Alphabetical list of expressions

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