A Picture Paints a Thousand Words (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "A Picture Paints a Thousand Words"?

The term "a picture paints a thousand words" means a visual presentation is far more descriptive than words.

The origin of "a picture paints a thousand words" is usually attributed to the newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936), who, in a 1911 newspaper article, advocated the use of images with the advice "Use a picture. It's worth a thousand words."

Competing Theory

The term is also attributed to an oriental origin, either Japanese or Chinese. In 1921, the British artist Frederick R. Barnard (noted for his work on the novels of Charles Dickens) wrote an article on the use of images for the journal "Printer's Ink" entitled "One Look Is Worth a Thousand Words." In his article, Barnard claimed the phrase belonged to a famous Japanese philosopher. Six years later, however, Printer's Ink ran a similar article, stating "one picture is worth ten thousand words," claiming it was a Chinese proverb.
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words (Origin)

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.
Next lesson >