Proverb – United States of America

The early bird catches the worm, but the late worm doesn’t get caught.

I honestly have no idea where I first heard this statement. Nor do I remember when I first heard it, but if I had to guess, I suppose I probably heard it sometime during middle school or early high school. I thought it was an interesting twist on the more popular version, “The early bird catches the worm,” and it just stuck with me. The more widely recognized version places value on being on time or early. More deeply, it places value on being able to prioritize and get things done so that you don’t have to miss anything. Always be ready to go, ready for action. The popular phrase is often used in an effort to encourage someone to hurry with a task so that he or she can move on to the next one, and avoid missing out on future opportunities.

If we examine the statement above, we can note that two different ideas are being expressed: one from the worm’s perspective, and one from the bird’s perspective. For the worm, being “late” means learning from others’ mistakes. That is, let someone else go first and fail (be eaten, in this case), and hopefully their mistakes will indicate what is necessary to succeed. For the bird, one could say that the lesson is that good things come for those who wait. Perhaps the late worm would have been more delicious and satisfying; however, since the bird acted so quickly and caught a worm right away, the bird was unable to have the choice worm because it had already eaten. If the bird had not been so early, it might have been able to scope out its options a bit more and select a more delicious worm.

The first time I heard this phrase, I think it was as a response to the proverb “The early bird catches the worm.” Rather than putting a positive emphasis on being early, the phrase is turned on its head, and the worm benefits instead of the bird, being late instead of early. When I discussed this proverb with a friend, he told me that lazy people probably came up with the second half, that “the late worm doesn’t get caught.” This phrase would benefit lazy people—rather than being a proactive bird who surely catches a worm, they are able to remain an inactive worm who is “late” but doesn’t get caught.