Quotes Uncovered: Teaching a Man to Fish

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Each week, I’ve been 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.

Einstein asked:

These days, I find myself trying to get people at work to do things for themselves rather than having to rely on me all the time, so I find myself using the phrase “give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” I’m curious as to where this phrase came from.


The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry:

“Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”
Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 1965. In this 1965 occurrence, the saying is said to be that of “an oriental philosopher”; however, the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Dec. 24, 1945, printed the following as an “old Indian proverb”: “If you give a man a fish, he will be hungry tomorrow. If you teach a man to fish, he will be richer forever.”

Can anyone find any earlier versions of this saying?

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


Dave K

A silly variation on this phrase (by Terry Pratchett in Discworld, according to Google) is:
"Give a man a fire and he's warm for the day. But set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life."

Bill

I once heard a slightly different version of that one.

Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to use the internet and he won't bother you for weeks.

Chelsea

Oh, I've never heard it phrased like that last bit before. It sounds much nicer, in my opinion. I'll have to try to remember to say it that way from now on.

Adam

My favorite variant is "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he drinks for a lifetime."

Jeremy

I would like to hear the origins of:

"It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth"

I have heard it attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville but have never been able to find a reference.

Juan. R.

Please look into "Bro's before ho's" and its variant "Chicks before D***'s"

I'm interested to learn if there are more genteel origins of these sayings.

Shaun Breidbart

Interesting, just a day or two ago I posted "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll probably steal your bait."
Shaun Eli Breidbart
BrainChampagne.com

Mikey

Give a man a fish, he eats today.
Teach a man to fish and you've lost a customer for life.

Miguel

A variant I've seen on the 'net: Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give a fish a man, and he'll eat for weeks.

Eric M. Jones

Let's get serious here. One would think this is easy but citations seem sparce, especially early ones. The best I found seem to point to the Chinese philosopher Guan Zi (or Guanzi or Guan Zhong or .........)

Try http://www.chinesephilosophy.net/

Joe

In software engineering we say:
Give a man a program and frustrate him for a day. Teach a man to program and frustrate him for a lifetime.

Alex

I've always wondered where some of these come from:

Two wrongs don't make a right.
Strike while the iron is hot.
Life is not all beer and skittles.

H.Su

My best guess is the Chinese philosopher Lao Zi and his Tao Te Ching.

Michael R

I always preferred:

"Give a man a fire, keep him warm for the night. Set a man on fire, keep him warm for the rest of his life."

JimB

Teach a man to fish, and he will destroy an ecosystem.

Gary

Teach a man to fish and you'll never hear the end of stories about the one that got away.

Ben

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. But teach a man to fish and then he has to get a fishing license, make sure his fish are the proper size....

James

Give a man a compliment, he'll be happy for a day.
Teach a man to fish for compliments, he'll be happy for the rest of his life.

Jay Lake

"Build a man a fire, he'll be warm for the night. Set a man on fire, he'll be warm for the rest of his life." - Terry Pratchett

Roger

I believe the origin of that proverb comes from Laotze, an ancient Chinese philosopher. The original form of the saying is that" shou zhi yi yu bu ru shou zhi yi yu"( To teach someone how to fish is better than to give someone a fish).