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What Does "A Bird in the Hand is Better than Two in the Bush" Mean?

A bird in hand.
Two birds in a bush.
The concept of "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush" is to veer away from greed.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2014
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“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” also sometimes given as, “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” is a proverb saying that it is better to stick with something you already have, rather than pursuing something you may never get. This proverb is a very popular warning, widely used in many English-speaking countries.

The phrase seems to have originated at some point in the 13th century, in a related Latin form: Plus valet in manibus avis unica quam dupla silvis. This can be loosely translated as, “A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the woods.”

The basic warning of this saying is that you must take care not to get too greedy in life. If you are holding a bird in the hand, you have your meal for the evening. You can take that one bird, and be well fed. If instead you let it go to pursue two birds you’ve spied in a bush, you may catch neither, and wind up hungry for the night. This proverb points out that by passing up a sure thing for a more promising possibility, you also run the risk of losing both the sure thing and the promising possibility.

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The saying may be used to refer to any number of things, in many different situations in life. Since the core concept is one of staying away from greed, it is often very apt. In gambling, for example, a person who has won a fair amount of money and wants to bet it all once more might be reminding that he has already made a profit, and by pursuing even more money, he may lose it all.

The concept demonstrated by the proverb can be looked at more closely using a game theory analysis. In this, we would have to also examine the probability of catching the two birds in the bush. Then we could begin to better calculate the relative values of the bird in the hand, and the bird in the bush. Different strategies would then manifest themselves: an extremely cautious strategy would of course always keep the known quantity, even if the chance of catching the two birds in the bush was 99%; a balanced strategy might advocate keeping one bird as long as the chance of catching the birds in the bush was less than 50%; and an extremely bullish strategy would always go for the two birds in the bush.

Some people also respond to this proverb, not necessarily accepting the wisdom that a bird in the hand is in fact better than two in the bush. People who respond are usually pointing out that while something that is known and possessed might be certain, the unknown could have a value far exceeding the known. A response might be something like, “a bird in the hand is good, but a bird in the bush might sing.”

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anon278123
Post 41

This is the only website where I got what I really wanted. Good job you've done with the website. I really was in an emergency situation.

anon275963
Post 40

Aesop, the Greek storyteller from about 600 B.C., apparently used it first.

anon251459
Post 38

It could have meant different or been mixed up. It isn't necessarily meant like you interpret it.

anon226453
Post 37

The bird in the hand is worth two in the bush makes me think of the geico commercial.

anon212566
Post 36

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If a bird in the hand means, keep what you've got and don't be greedy, then shouldn't the second part say isn't worth two in the bush because two in the bush could be more valuable than a bird in the hand.

anon163319
Post 33

I feel it would be more appropriate for the phrase to be:

"*Sometimes* a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,"

which basically communicates the idea that hey, you know you've got something in your possession right now, and it's probably better to be satisfied with what you've got than risk losing it to chase more, because that's greed, right? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. This way, the phrase isn't a concrete message saying don't chase more.

The reason i think this is perhaps more appropriate is because sometimes we need to risk it all in life to achieve our goals dreams and aspirations. For example, I have a good paying job but i want to become wealthy and to do that i must give up this job. I must learn to create massive value by building businesses and helping others. Therefore, i must go after that "two in the bush." So, "Sometimes a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," but not this time.

We need to grow and to grow we must sacrifice, so sometimes it might actually be better to sacrifice that bird in the hand. Just my two cents.

anon149854
Post 32

Having something in your possession is more valuable than potential gain. You don't have to give up what you have to get more, it just illustrates that a sure thing is twice as valuable as a possible thing. But that doesn't mean don't try to get it.

anon139498
Post 30

A bird in the hand is better than two in a bush, but I am where i am because i have always pursued the two in the bush!!

anon137409
Post 28

A little money is better than nothing at all. Be happy of what you have today. Only a fool worries about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

anon136641
Post 27

"A bird in the hand" is a statement referring to what an individual already possesses. "Two in the bush" refers to what is present outside of one's possession. "Bush" may refer to the unknown. So the interpretation may relevant to risk.

If someone possesses something, whether it be a relationship, property, job, or other aspects of possession, it may have a considerable amount of risk to remove that item of possession to seek its improvement.

So, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." could mean "keep what you have now because the risk of improving it is unknown."

anon135703
Post 26

I heard this saying years before the GEICO commercial.

anon132369
Post 23

It's obviously clear that those who were looking for what "worth two in the bush" meant saw the geico commercial and want to know in terms of the auction, how much two in the bush goes for in quantity.

However, there is not a known quantity and I would say the commercial, as with the other geico commercials, was simply meant to be funny. She wanted to auction off a bird in a hand and he could only tell her it was worth, as the proverb says, two in the bush.

anon130773
Post 19

i don't get it. none of the answers make sense for this. if it is worth money, then how much, how much money is two in a bush?

anon129454
Post 17

I first heard this saying in a Geico commercial.

anon121850
Post 14

very well said, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. profit is profit and as long as you make some type of profit you're good. Don't be greedy know when to get enough. Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. basically, be satisfied and have gratitude and not attitude.

anon116482
Post 12

A bird in the hand is worth... all the posts refer to a lack of mentality. A lack of faith. To take any proverb as conventional wisdom, therefore lacks wisdom and relies only on intellect.

This proverb is about trusting God's best. Seeing with eyes of faith rather than eyes of sight. So all of the posts are limited in scope because the lack of a level of maturity that enables one to walk across the bridge as you build it.

anon107540
Post 8

Hey - anon106351, you raise an interesting point, but your job analogy is only true if the "better" job is attained before quitting the "decent" one. The proverb would warn you against quitting your job today going after one you haven't landed yet.

anon106351
Post 7

I would argue this point as holding people back. It’s telling people: don’t risk quitting your ‘decent’ job for what you may think is a better one. Because after all, a decent job is better than no job at all.

anon105265
Post 6

It seems to me that "A bird in the hand is 'worth'...is a common mis-phrasing of the proverb. If, in fact, the proverb is a warning against greed, then the words "more than" would follow the word "worth". Otherwise, as written it makes no sense because it doesn't set up a proper analogy.

anon100155
Post 4

Another possible variation: "Keep the one that is worth the value of two ." lol!

lmorales
Post 3

Actually anon89686, both interpretations are right; yours and what’s written above.

While the saying most certainly has deeper roots than the sales floor, with many different variations to boot, it means just what you say. It’s better to have some sort of advantage rather than no advantage at all. The saying has changed over the course of literally hundreds of years, but the end result remains the same.

While some people will say that it’s a warning others will argue with the same point of view that you have. I, however, think that it’s open for interpretation.

anon89686
Post 2

This isn't what this means at all. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush is a sales expression meaning take even the lesser sale as it is better than nothing.

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