Pride comes before a fall
What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pride comes before a fall'?
The proverbial saying 'pride comes before a fall' is a warning that haughtiness and hubris leads to failure and loss.
What's the origin of the phrase 'Pride comes before a fall'?
The proverb 'pride comes before a fall' was originally 'pride goes before a fall' and this variant is still commonly used.
In fact, neither version is exactly as the proverb was originally written. The line comes from the Bible and is found, appropriately, in Proverbs 16:18. This is the current King James Version text:
Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
This has been used in biblical versions since at least Wycliffite's Bible in 1382:
Pride goth befor contricioun, & befor falling the spirit shall ben enhauncid.
The meaning of 'fall' these days is interpreted to be 'downfall; failure' but the biblical meaning indicates something more calamitous. Fall was there meant to indicate what in the OED defines thus:
The action or fact of lapsing into sin or folly, or of yielding to temptation; moral decline, descent, or ruin.
This is the fall that Eve, the original fallen woman, was said to have suffered by tasting the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The proverb is one of the oldest in common use in English. It is alluded to in John Bale's book A mysterye of inyquyte..., 1545:
For most commonlye the papistes are full of vayne glorye.
But it is alwayes yll spede when pryde goeth afore and shame cometh after.
So, if early users of the proverb spoke of pride going before contrition or destruction or shame, when did people start saying 'pride comes before a fall'?
This variant appears to have started with a poem entitled The Two Trees by the American writer Caroline Orne, which was published in her book The Lady's Room, 1841:
Pride oft goes before a fall;
And the sudden rushing tempest.
The more recent variant 'pride comes before a fall', which is the more commonly used now, is also first found in America. The earliest citation that I can find of that form was printed in The Vermont Watchman and State Journal, July 1847.
It's notable that the best known personification of pride in English literature - Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, didn't result in his downfall and failure; the novel concludes with his happy marriage to Elizabeth Bennet.
See other phrases that were coined in the USA.