Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch"?

The term "don't count your chickens before they hatch" means don't rely on something until you're sure of it. In other words, it is warning not to rush to evaluate a situation without knowing the outcome.
Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch (Origin)
This proverb is often shortened to "don't count your chickens." It originates from "The Milkmaid and Her Pail," which is one of Aesop's Fables (see below). Aesop was a Greek storyteller credited with a number of fables, which are now known as Aesop's Fables. He lived 620-564 BC.

A version of "don't count your chickens" first appears in English print in English poet Thomas Howell's "New Sonnets" from 1570:
  • "Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be, Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee."
Another version appears English novelist Samuel Butler's 1664 poem "Hudibras":
  • "To swallow gudgeons ere they're catch'd,
    And count their chickens ere they're hatched."
This proverb exists in many forms globally:
  • Spanish: "No cantes victoria antes de tiempo" (Don't sing victory before time.)
  • Russian: "Не продавай шкуры, не убив медведя." (Don't sell the skin having not killed the bear.)

The Milkmaid and Her Pail

There was once a young milk-maid who was coming home from milking her cows from the pasture with a pail of milk on her head. On her way home, she began to think "I'll make cream and butter from this milk, sell it at the market, and use it to buy eggs. When the eggs hatch, I will have a great chicken farm!"

The milk-maid continued to think "I will sell some of my chickens and use that money to buy a beautiful dress! Seeing my dress, boys from all around will admire me, and I will turn them away by simply tossing my head at them!"

She was so caught up in the daydream, the milk-maid immediately tossed her head, imitating what she would do. However, she had forgotten all about the pail on her head and it came tumbling down, breaking and spilling milk all over the ground.

She grieved "Oh no! I've lost everything!"

Moral: Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

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