Interviewer: So what proverb did you want to share with me today?
Subject: A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.
Interviewer: What does that mean?
Subject: It means… what you have and what you can see and what you can hold is better than what you might be able to get somewhere else… that’s uncertain.
Subject: In other words, go with certainty.
Interviewer: Who told you that one? Do you remember who told you it?
Subject: Old people told me it. Believe it or not even older than me.
Interviewer: Wow. That’s pretty old.
Context: The subject is a middle-aged white man, born and raised in Tiverton, Rhode Island, and currently residing in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents are Ashkenazi Jews and his ancestors come from Russia. He is my father, and we are currently quarantined together in Charleston due to the Coronavirus pandemic. One evening after dinner, I asked him to share any folklore he heard of when he was younger.
Interpretation: I had never heard this proverb before. I did more research on it and found that the subject’s account of the proverb differed slightly from the more popular version I found upon which goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The proverb is a well-known English proverb, and was likely adapted from other languages. Specifically, warnings against risk-taking are apparently very common for English Proverbs. The proverb was likely brought to America by English migrants between the 17th and 18th century. Based on what I personally know about the subject and his older family, this proverb is very applicable to them. They definitely value certainty and safety, and are not the risk-taking types. The subject has certainly tried to instill those values onto myself.
For more on this English Proverb, go to: