A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Meaning of “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

The proverbial sentence “A picture is worth a thousand words” is one of the famous and common proverbs. It means an artwork or an image can convey meanings more effectively than descriptions. This phrase is usually used in newspaper advertisements. It shows that graphic illustrations are more useful to express the clear thoughts hidden behind a notion rather than words. Most artists, especially in the modern arts, share their message through their art piece. These artworks bring various interpretations and are also hard to get it right. However, an image can undoubtedly give an important message or tell a story using colors, designs, themes, and more.

Origin of “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

This proverb seems to have witnessed a long evolution before reaching its present shape and showing its current meanings. It is derived from the philosophy of a Chinese philosopher, Confucius. However, the modern use of this phrase is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard.

In the early 20th century, this current phrase emerged in the United States introduced by Frederick R. Barnard. He published an article on December 1921 under the title, “One Look is Worth a Thousand Words” in Printer’s Ink. Barnard claims that the phrase has Japanese origin. He also has attributed it to a Japanese in his article.

Another version of this phrase was printed in Printer’s Ink in its March 1927 publication. This time the catalog suggested this phrase having Chinese origin as it says, “Chinese proverb. One picture is worth ten thousand words.”

The current version of this phrase has been traced from an advertisement of, the San Antonio Light, newspaper in one of its publications of 1918 which appears as: “One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

If – written by Gates David Ashworth and sung by Bread

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?
The words will never show, to you I’ve come to know.
If a face could launch a thousand ships, then where am I to go?
there’s no one home but you, You’re all that’s left me too.
And when, my love, for life is running dry,
you come, and pour, yourself, on me.

If a man could be two places at one time, I’d be with you.
tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.

If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die,
I’d spend the end with you, and when the world was through,
Then one, by one, the stars would all go out
and you, and I, would simply fly away

The song is about the poet’s declaration of painting his beloved through his words. Using different literary devices, the poet has shown his love, which imaginarily paints his beloved’s face like a sea. The use of this saying in the very first line points to the dexterity of the poet and the effectiveness of this saying as compared to the words he used to paint the picture of his beloved.

Example #2

Worth A Thousand Words by Stacy Hawkins Adams

A journalist and an award-winning author, Stacy Hawkins Adams, wrote a book series, Jubilant Soul. Worth a Thousand Words is a sequel, which has the second half of the proverb. In spite of using the proverb partially, the title means “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The story revolves around the significant character, Indigo, a passionate young girl who wants to peruse her career as a photographer, but she is stuck in several obstacles. The marriage proposal from her long-time beloved, Brayn, is a hindrance to success and career. The protagonist keeps on challenging her strength and emotions as she tries to fight with her love life and future dreams. This proverb has been used metaphorically in the story.

Example #3

Thousand Words by Forrest Hiler

This phrasing goes as follows;

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
What about words?
Can they be forged into,
A thousand pictures.

People paint a visual,
Long before we know them,
Who’s to know what picture,
Lurks behind the eye?
Are we worth thousand visuals?

For we have all their pictures,
All their perfect words,
All their protective hugs,
All their loving kisses,
And all their thoughtful idea.

The poem “Thousand Words” show the use of the pictures. A picture is a crucial element of the proverb. Therefore, the whole saying has been used to interpret the effectiveness of pictures to convey a message. The comparison of words and pictures raise a new controversy whether the picture is worth words or words are worth pictures. However, we can conclude that the use of the proverb in this poem is an excellent way of writing poetry.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures.”

Example #2: “Solomon stared at Mona Lisa’s portrait, feeling mesmerized, he said to himself, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words. Her smile, her eyes says it all.”

Example #3: “The manager asked the team to add more graphics for the presentation because a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Example #4: “Johnny’s reaction to their neighbor’s portrait was so weird. It is true what they say; a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Example #5: “You better draw a proper map with the directions. Your instructions are too fast to register in my mind. You know, a picture is worth a thousand words.”