Quotes Uncovered: A Bird in the Hand

Photo: Mike Baird

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research. Here is the latest round.

von bargen asked:

May you live in interesting times.” I’ll bet you strike out. Maybe nobody ever said it first. Is it a curse or not?

The Yale Book of Quotations traces this earlier than anyone else has, to the American Society of International Law Proceedings in 1939. It goes on to state, “No authentic Chinese saying to this effect has ever been found.” It is usually said to be a curse.

Joel asked:

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Who is this credited to?

This is a proverb, and unlikely to ever be traced to a definitive originator. The Yale Book of Quotations gives as its earliest example John Bunyan‘s book, Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). The YBQ repeats the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs‘ note that mentions variant wordings of the proverb in Latin (13th century) and English (15th century).

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?


"Exit... stage left."


"Might as well. Can't dance."


"Down the tubes."


"If it ain't broke... don't fix it."


"Cold as a witches teat."


"You can't get there from here."


"Love may be blind... but the neighbors ain't."


"Warm hands cold heart." and vice verca.


#1 I was certainly Snagglepuss,
also the populariser of "Heavens to Murgatroyd"


gratitude is like a rose in a pig's stomach


"As the crow flies"

Kathleen Mulcahy

Not really a quote but...when speaking and referring to someone as SHE, my husband's mother would always say...Who is SHE? the cat's mother?

Eric M. Jones

"May you live in interesting times"....Sir Austen Chamberlain wrote this in a letter referred to in 1937 (in the journal you cite) Chamberlain also died in 1937, so this moves it back a tad at least.

Eric M. Jones

I want to launch a desperate appeal to revisit "the whole nine yards" as refering to the length of material in a sari or turban and being from India and carried by British civil servants when they returned to England in 1947-1950. But furthermore one has to ask what happened to all the sayings and quips used in India otherwise? There must have been hundreds.


Doesn't Sancho Panza say "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush" in Don Quixote? That was published in 1605 and 1615 (2nd volume).


Huh, I thought 'May you live in interesting times' was from Terry Pratchett


There's not enough room to swing a cat.


"a line in the sand"


"Go forth and prosper" - earlier than Mary Shelly's Frankenstein? is it biblical?


Why tiptoe carefully through life, only to arrive safely at death?

I love this quote but wish I knew who thought of it?