phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Blood is thicker than water

Posted by ESC on January 23, 2001

In Reply to: Blood is thicker than water posted by John Thayer Jensen on January 22, 2001

: The 'origin' entry for this simply says that it dates back to 1672. I am curious as to the source of the meaning. I have always presumed that the water in the phrase was the water of baptism, and that it was a justification for feuding between families (both of which were Christians). I have no evidence for this view, however. It is speculation. Does anyone have any evidence?

: John Thayer Jensen
: System Administrator, Commerce Computing
: University of Auckland

BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER -- I didn't find anything that explained the why of "water" as a comparison with "blood." (Does anyone have a copy of "Reynald the Fox"?) But I did find an earlier date of origin than mentioned in this inquiry. The first reference listed here gives the earliest date and the most complete information. Just for the record (and since I'd already done the typing) I'm including the other references also.

1. "This proverb on the bonds of family and common ancestry first appeared in the medieval German beast epic 'Reinecke Fuch' (c. 1130 'Reynald the Fox') by Heinrich der Glichezaere, whose words in English read, 'Kin-blood is not spoiled by water.' In 1412, the English priest John Lydgate observed in 'Troy Book,' 'For naturelly blod will ay of knde/ Draw vn-to blod, wher he may it fynd.' By 1670, the modern version was included in John Ray's collected 'Proverbs,' and later appeared in Sir Walter Scott's novel 'Guy Mannering' and in English reformer Thomas Hughes's 'Tom Brown's School Days' . In 1859, a U.S. Navy commodore also quoted the proverb in a letter explaining why he had gone to the aid of a British fleet during a battle with the Chinese that year. More recently, Aldous Huxley's 'Nineth Philosopher's Song' gave the saying quite a different turn with 'Blood, as all men know, than water's thicker/ But water's wider, thank the Lord, than blood. 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).

2. "Relatives stick together; one will do more for relation than for others. A similar expression in German dates from the 12th century, but in English it seems to have been passed on verbally until the early 19th century when it appeared in print, in 1815, in Sir Walter Scott's 'Guy Mannering'" 'Weel - Blud's thicker than water - she's welcome to the cheeses.'" From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

3. "Relationships within the family are stronger than any other kind. The saying was first cited in John Lydgate's 'Troy Book' (c. 1412). Appeared in J. Ray's collection of proverbs in 1670. First attested in the United States in 'Journal of Athabasca Department' ." From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

4. This reference says the phrase was collected in a book of proverbs in 1672. From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).