Blood Is Thicker Than Water (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Blood Is Thicker Than Water"?

The term "blood is thicker than water" means the family bond is stronger than other bonds. In other words, it means that your commitment to your family members is greater than the commitment to your friends and colleagues. (Interestingly, the word "blood" did not originally mean "family members," as you might expect. In the original version of this saying, "water" was the word that represented family members.)
Blood Is Thicker Than Water (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Simon, please don't pester my brother. It won't end well between us. Don't forget that blood is thicker than water.
  • I can't attend the presentation on Thursday evening. My sister is singing in the school play. Blood is thicker than water. Sorry.
  • When I lost all my money, it was my family who came to my rescue, not my friends. It just proves that blood is thicker than water.
Nowadays, the word "blood" is taken as a metonym for family members (i.e., those with whom you share the same blood), while "water" refers to those with whom you don't share the same blood (i.e., people outside your family). However, the original saying was "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb," and this had a very different interpretation of the words "blood" and "water."

Why blood? In ancient covenant making (i.e., forming an agreement or an alliance), the two people involved would stand in the blood of a slaughtered animal with their right hands joined as they swore an oath of allegiance to each other. Such covenants were also made by people cutting their palms and holding hands, allowing their blood to mingle. With such rituals, the two covenant makers would become "blood brothers."

Why water? In the original saying, "water" refers to the water of the womb. In other words, it refers to people who came from the same womb (literal brothers as opposed to "blood brothers").

So, the saying "blood is thicker than water" means that a bond made during a blood ritual is stronger than a familial bond, which is the opposite of today's commonly held interpretation.

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What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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