Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Don’t Count Your Chickens Until Your Eggs Are Hatched

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 19, 2011

The saying has been around for years and everyone from your great-grandmother to your kindergarten teacher and all kinds of people in between.  On September 30, 1911 the Chicago Tribune reported on the Cubs and Giants game in the pennant struggle.  The news article read in part:

Don’t count your chickens until they are hatched is an old saying, and it holds good in baseball.

Poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680) used this advice in his poem, Hudibras, written in 1664:

To swallow gudgeons ere they’re catch’d,
And count their chickens ere they’re hatched.

English poet, Thomas Howell published a book entitled The Arbor of Amitie, wherein is comprised pleasant Poems and pretie Poesies, set foorth by Thomas Howell, Gentleman in 1568.  Two years later in 1570, in his new book,  New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets he wrote a poem that had this couplet:

Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,
Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.

However it was Aesop’s fable from 570 B.C. entitled “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” 

A milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk.

“I’ll buy some fowls from the farmer next door,” said she, “and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to others. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs, I’ll buy a new dress for myself.  This way, when I go to market, all the young men will come up and speak to me!  Other girls will be jealous but I won’t care.  I will just look at them and toss my head like this.”

And with those words, the milkmaid tossed her head back.  The pail fell off her head and all the milk was spilled on the ground. She had no choice but to go home and tell her mother what had happened to the milk.

“Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

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