phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Don't count your chickens

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 20, 2010 at 18:11

In Reply to: Don't count your chickens posted by ESC on July 19, 2010 at 22:44:

: : I have just been reading the book of Chuang Tzu, which is reputed to go back to 2-400BC. I am reading the Penguin edition. In the second chapter, I have just come across the use of the saying "don't count your chickens eggs...". If this part of the translation is original, which I am not certain, then this would be the true origin of this saying and not Aesop's fables and some other guy from the 1500's.

: : What say the people of this forum?

: Just to get the discussion going, here is what we have so far:

: "The earliest renderings of the proverb in English appeared in a word called 'Misogonus' (c. 1577): 'My chickings are not hatcht I nil to counte of him as yet,' and in 'Ephemerides of Phialo' by the English ecclesiastic Stephen Gosson, 'I would not have him to counte his chickens so soone before they be hatcht.'." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993). And from Phrase Finder: The thought was recorded in print by Thomas Howell in New Sonnets and pretty Pamphlets, 1570: Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,/Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee

Firstly, as you suggest this translation may not be literal: it's quite possible that the translator used a well-known English proverb which has an equivalent meaning to some quite different phrase in the Chinese original. Translators often do that. But even if it is literal, that would still not mean that Chuang Tzu's book is "the true origin" of the English saying. You could only say that if you could show that Aesop had had access to Chinese literature and learned it from there. It is far more likely that these widely-separated cultures came up with the idea independently. After all, everyone who has ever kept chickens (and in pre-modern days that was a much larger proportion of the population than now) knows that the statement "My hen is sitting on a clutch of 5 eggs, so I'll soon have 5 chicks" is not necessarily true, alas! (VSD)