What Does A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush Mean?

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush Meaning

Definition: Having something for certain is better than the possibility of getting something better.

A bird in the hand is a sure thing; it’s in your hand. You already have the bird. If you try to catch another, however, you risk losing the bird in your hand and also whatever it was you were trying to catch. Now you have no bird in hand, and there is no guarantee that you will get the two in the bush. In other words, it’s better to be sure about something smaller than to be unsure about something bigger.

This idiom can be used to talk about actual things, relationships, or even concepts like advantages and disadvantages.

It is better to have one certain relationship rather than risk it by cheating with more; it is better to have a lesser but more certain advantage than the possibility of a greater one that may not actually come to fruition; it is better to take a smaller but certain return on investment than the possibility of a greater one that may never come to be.

The moral of this idiom is to not be greedy. Stick with what you have instead of going after something you’ll probably never get.

Origin of A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

a bird in the hand is worth two in the bushThe phrase, as we see it today, predates its first known publication, which appeared in the 1670 A Hand-book of Proverbs, written by John Ray.

  • A [also ‘one’] bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

However, we can find variations of the phrase long before that in various sources, including this English translation from the Latin Bible:

  • A living dog is better than a dead lion. Ecclesiastes IX

Later, in 1530, The Boke of Nurture or Schoole of Good Maners holds the line,

  • A byrd in hand – is worth ten flye at large.

It is not clear when exactly the phrase shifted to its current incarnation.

Examples of A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

one in the hand two in the bushNowadays, this expression is most often heard in the job sphere, where people warn against making risky deals, taking new positions, or trying to expand.

John: We’re thinking of buying another company to double in size.

Steven: Careful, you don’t know if our structure can support that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, remember.

If the company goes bankrupt after expanding, it would have been better to remain a smaller company.

More Examples

  • Whether you happily accept your first [job] offer or roll the dice on your next interview depends wholly on your tolerance for having zero income. If you already have a job… make your employers sweat a little bit. But if you’re currently unemployed, take a moment and reflect on Grandpa’s favorite saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” and take the job in front of you.Upstate Business Journal
  • In these circumstances I’m a big believer in a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It’s certainly possible that rates could be lower several years from now than they are today. But given historical trends, it’s unlikely. –Forbes

Summary

Even if it’s of a lesser quality, it is sometimes better to take a sure thing than the chance of something greater and risk losing what you have.