“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

Aesop first said this saying, circa 570 B.C, in the fable “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.”  The story behind the proverb: “Patty, a farmer’s daughter, is daydreaming as she walks to town with a pail of milk balanced on her head. Her thoughts: “The milk in this pail will provide me with cream, which I will make into butter, which I will sell in the market, and buy a dozen eggs, which will hatch into chickens, which will lay more eggs, and soon I shall have a large poultry yard. I’ll sell some of the fowls and buy myself a handsome new gown and go to the fair, and when the young fellows try to make love to me, I’ll toss my head and pass them by.” At that moment, Patty tossed her head and lost the pailful of milk. Her mother admonished, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

My informant’s mother told this proverb to her.  Rebekah interprets the proverb to mean that you should not rely on something unless it a for sure thing.  She first heard the proverb when Rebekah was 20, in 1997, and was planning to go to Europe.  She told everyone that she was going to go and began preparing for the trip.  She bought clothes for the trip, books on where they would travel, and was ecstatic about going.  She did not have her plane tickets yet, but the person she was going to travel with told her they had not yet booked the flights but to not worry about it because there would be no problems.  Her friend ended up having a conflict and she was not able to go on the trip that she had anticipated.  She was really upset, and was complaining to her mother about her situation.  Her mother told her that she should “never count her chickens before they are hatched.”  By this she meant that nothing is every a definite thing until it happens.  Plans can always very easily fall through.

Rebekah remembers this proverb and applies it to her own life frequently because she does not like to be let down.  She thinks anticipation is a good thing if it is kept within moderation, but if you have high expectations, it is likely that you may end up disappointed.

I have heard this proverb used many times, always in regards to maintaining a realistic level of expectation for something, and I agree with it completely.  I parallel the saying with a different saying, “hope for the best, but expect the worst.”  If a person controls their expectations, they will never be disappointed because the result will always exceed what it is they expect.

Annotation:  Wallechinsky, David and Wallace Irving.  Origins of Sayings” (1975). Retrieved April 10, 2007, from