A Bird in the Hand

Meanings of “A Bird in the Hand”

This phrase ‘a bird in the hand’ means the person has received or already has something valuable. It also means to have something little than the promised. In other words, if you have a bird in the hand, do not chase after the two birds in the bush, or you may lose the one you already have. It is because there may not be two in the bush, and the illusion of the two may deceive you.

Origin of “A Bird in the Hand”

The exact origin of this phrase “a bird in the hand” is unknown. However, it is a part of a famous and popular proverba bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” as interpreted above. It is assumed to be borrowed from another culture into the English language in or around the 15th century. Its first use is traced in The Life of St. Katharine of Alexandria by John Capgrave which was published approximately during the 1450s.

It goes thus:

“It is more sekyr [certain] a byrd in your fest, Than to haue three in the sky a‐boue.”

It is also found in the glossary of John Heywood in which he has used this proverb. However, “two” is replaced with “ten”. The saying goes, “Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood.”

Another use has been traced to Conflict of Conscience by Nathaniel Woodes. It was published in 1581. He says “You hauve spoken reasonably well, but yet as they say, One birde in the hande, is worth two in the bush. Here the writer has used, “two” instead of “ten” as opposed to Heywood.

However, it is clear that it has emerged from the medieval fondness of falconry where a falcon was considered a good thing to catch more lying out there. It has also been mentioned in A Hand-Book of Proverbs by John Ray published in 1670. It is mentioned as, “A [also ‘one’] bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

In yet another use by John Bunyan is found in his famous literary work, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. It was published in 1678. He writes, “That Proverb, A Bird in the hand is worth two in the Bush, is of more authority with them, they are all… testimonies of the good of the world to come.”

One more famous usage of this proverb has been found in Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul, a novel published in 1973. The text goes in the following way, “We have an expression in English – A bird in the hand is worth two in the bus. I don’t know anything about that “afterward.” I only know I would like to live another ten years.”

Examples of “A Bird in the Hand” in Literature

Example #1

Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline

‘Bird in Hand’ novel recounts the story of a lady, Alison, who finds her life perfect but then it changes topsy-turvy overnight due to an accident. The second accident occurs when it comes to knowing that her best friend has an affair with her husband. Her world changes in a way that her own bird, her husband, flies away though she was in search of a better life when she got married. It illustrates this phrase that a bird in the hand is better than what a person is running after.

Example #2

A Bird In The Hand by Bill Simmons

And like the small bird, only it cannot fly
You cannot see the pain or feel the hurt inside

And I tremble too, And I’ve lost my will
The only difference is, I’m alive still

So a bird in the hand, you might not understand
If it doesn’t fly away, it might not can

And if you wait to late, it will surely die
Just as my love for you, it has died inside.

This poem is composed as a song by Bill Simmons. The phrase ‘a bird in the hand’ is used in the fifth line, and ‘bird’ appears in different verses of this poem. However, it is very interesting to note that the phrase has not been used in its literal sense. It has rather been used for the wildlife to teach the people that they should not keep a bird in hand whether it is a pet or a wild bird. It is because birds are very weak creatures and some of them die instantly. The poet has used this phrase to save wildlife. Therefore, the verse “So a bird in hand, you might not understand” makes it easy to recognize the meaning expressed by Simmons.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Example #1: The phrase ‘a bird in the hand’ can be used as a metaphor. For example, ‘He did not sell his land to purchase more in the nearby town seeing that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ Here the bird is a metaphor of a piece of land mentioned in the sentence.

Example #2: ‘Even if you are promised to be appointed a manager, see that you are settled here. Keep in mind that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ Here the full proverb has been used for the job which is a metaphorical use.

Example #3: “He may not jump to the temptation of getting two apples from you, as he knows that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The bird is again used as a metaphor of an apple.

Example #4: ‘That job offer was like a-bird-in-hand, and I accepted it immediately lest it may be withdrawn.’ In this sentence, the phrase “a bird in hand” has been used as a simile which is compared to the job opportunity.

Example #5: “A-bird-in-the-hand mentality always saves a person from further problems. It is because such a person does not take a risk and plays safely.” This metaphorical use has made mentality as a-bird-in-the-hand mindset.