What Does A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss Mean?

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss Meaning

Definition: 1) a person who is constantly moving and never lives in one place for a long time cannot gain knowledge or wealth; 2) a person who is always moving and does not stay in a single place for too long will never become stagnant and will always remain creative.

Origin of a Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

This ancient proverb has appeared in numerous languages such as Greek and Latin before appearing in English.

Its first use in English was in the 1500s. It was cited by Erasmus in the third volume of his collection of Latin proverbs Adagia, somewhere between 1500 and 1523.

The idea is that moss will only grow on a stone that remains still. By moving, any moss gets knocked off of the rock.

The metaphor likens knowledge to moss. If someone is constantly moving and never stays in one place, he cannot acquire knowledge from those around him. By moving, he avoids his responsibilities and cares.

The traditional interpretation of this expression is that of a warning to nomads and wanderers. By constantly moving and avoiding responsibility, you never establish roots, gain knowledge, or gain experience.

A related expression a day in the moss was sometimes used metaphorically for hard work in preparation for winter. Again, a rolling stone would not likely put in the time or effort in preparing for winter and would, therefore, experience hard times.

In these senses, moss has a positive connotation.

In modern times, some have reinterpreted moss to have a negative connotation. Now, many people use the proverb as a warning not to become too settled in a lifestyle, because it will become tedious. This is the usage in the second definition.

As you can see, the two uses are complete opposites, so context must be your guide to determine a specific authors’ meaning.

Examples of a Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

a rolling stone gathers no moss story In this example, two friends are discussing whether or not they should study abroad.

Cassie: Hey! I think we should both study abroad next year. What do you think?

Rebecca: I don’t know. It seems like a lot of work. And it might be dangerous!

Cassie: Yeah, but think of all the new things we’d learn, and then new culture we’d experience.

Rebecca: That’s true. I guess I have been feeling kind of bored. They say that a rolling stone gathers no moss. Studying abroad might be a good way for me to challenge myself in a new way, and grow as a person!

Cassie: That’s the spirit! Let’s decide which country we want to go to.

a rolling stone gathers no moss what does it meanIn the dialogue below, two men are almost finished traveling in Korea and are discussing their future plans.

Antonio: We’re almost at the end of our trip! This was amazing. I can’t wait for us to go to a new place next year, or have some other adventure!

Igor: Really? I think this was amazing, too, but we already saw so much. And you know what they say about a rolling stone.

Antonio: That rolling stones are awesome and interesting?

Igor: No, a rolling stone gathers no moss means that without a stable lifestyle, you can’t have the benefits of a stable income. I think I’m going to settle down after this and start focusing on building my work experience and finding a family to grow old with.

More Examples

The article excerpt uses the proverb to emphasize the freedom of a convertible car.

  • “We were inspired by the proverb ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss,'” said Chris Chapman, Hyundai’s chief designer in the U.S. The concept car “offers the ‘no strings attached’ freedom of a roll top convertible.” –USA Today

This quote is about staying active when older.

  • “I just think the fact she’s been doing it all these years, what do they say? A rolling stone gathers no moss,” he said. “Like I tell a lot of my exercise people, you can get old but you don’t have to be decrepit. That’s only brought on by a lack of activity. She’s not one to sit around and let that happen.” –USA Today


The proverb a rolling stone gathers no moss can either mean that it is a good idea to stay in one place to develop deep relationships and gain more experience and earn more money, or it can mean that traveling far and wide teaches you many new things and keeps you creative.