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The meaning and origin of the expression: Once bitten, twice shy

Once bitten, twice shy

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Once bitten, twice shy'?

The proverb 'once bitten, twice shy' suggests that, when someone is hurt doing something, they are wary of doing it again for fear of being hurt a second time.

It is frequently used to describe the feelings of someone who has been hurt by a failed romance.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Once bitten, twice shy'?

This expression is somewhat similar to another proverb - 'don't throw good money after bad'. Both proverbs put forward the idea that, 'after something you do works out badly, don't do the same thing again'.

Once bitten, twice shyThe expression is English and first began to be used around the turn of the 19th century. At that time the term 'bite' was used to describe any unpleasant experience.

The proverb is almost coined in this extract from Eliza Fowler Haywood's novel The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, 1751:

I have been bit once, and have made a vow never to settle upon any woman while I live, again.

The first example I can find of the precise wording of the proverb in print is from another female English novelist, Rachel Hunter, in Lady Maclairn, the victim of villany, 1806:

My wife says that the Captain is very fond of her, and if all be gold that glitters, I am to believe that he doats upon her; but once bit twice shy, is the maxim uppermost with me, when the Captain is concerned.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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