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Beggars can't not be choosers

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 31, 2008 at 15:39

In Reply to: Beggars can't not be choosers posted by Jae-Seung Lee on October 31, 2008 at 14:52:

: I wonder about the origin of "Beggars can't not be choosers", but I can't find that. So, could you tell about the orgin of "beggars can't not be chooosers" as soon as possible?

: Thank you!

You have added a word ("not") which makes your search more difficult. Adding "not' gives this sentence a double negative. The usual saying is, "Beggars can't be choosers," meaning, of course, that beggars must take what they can get. It is usually applied figuratively to someone who is not in a position, for one reason or another, to dictate what he what will accept from another party. If I am hungry enough to ask you for food, I shouldn't try to tell you how I like it prepared. If I don't have a car and you give me a ride, I can't ask you to drive faster. Well, I can, but beggars can't be choosers.

The expression is both very common and very old. It appears in John Heywood's Proverbs and Epigrams (1562 ed.) as "Beggers should be no choosers." The word "beggar" (or begger) is as old as modern English, and the sight of people reduced to beggary is a constant reminder of how little stands between us and that condition. So it is no surprise that proverbs and sayings about beggars have been rather common, and have remained so. Another very common saying is "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."