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Linguaholic

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush


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I'm a native English speaker and I've come across this saying a few times in my life. However, I've never really understood why it's constantly used as a reply to someone complaining about their problems or if they're talking about coupons for a store. My understanding of the phrase is that it means the following:

a bird that you have caught already can be cooked and eaten. There's no if's-it's a fact that you have the bird. Two in the bush means that you can try to attain the other two but you might not get them. The allusions are there but I feel confused about why people would use them in the two settings I mentioned.

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I'm not clear on the context when used as a reply to 1) someone complaining about their problems or 2) if they're talking about coupons for a store. So, I'll just hazard a guess.

1 - could it be that the person who complains about a problem already HAS a solution to his problem, but proceeds to continuously complain about the problem and is not too happy with the solution in hand, and is still seeking for a different solution? Ergo, whoever is listening to him is telling him something about being content with his solution, and not go look for solutions that aren't within his grasp yet.

2 - i guess, it's the same thing with coupons. having a coupon that he can readily used, but still ends up wanting for more coupons that are NOT there or he doesn't have.

just my thoughts.

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I think it's told to people who complain about their problems so that they realize that they are lucky to have something in their hand and they should be discouraged from feeling disappointed with not having more options that are uncertain in terms of being attainable. To me it just means that having one caught is better than the possibility of catching two because that is uncertain whereas the one you have is already yours.

I'm not too sure about the coupon thing though since I'm not a coupon expert but I suspect it's something similar.

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Thank you both for your opinion, and I think you're right. I hadn't even considered the thought that it could be someone complaining when they probably had nothing much to complain about. I should've realized that implication sooner. I think I can understand now about why it's being used in such a way around my home and town lately.

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Scribendi: World-Class Editing and Proofreading

The idiom is used in those two instances among many others, to relate the fact that it is best to be content with what you have than to try to acquire that which you aren't certain of achieving. Also, with what you already have you may not even need to go in search of anything else if time is spend on appreciating what you already have.

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Thank you both for your opinion, and I think you're right. I hadn't even considered the thought that it could be someone complaining when they probably had nothing much to complain about. I should've realized that implication sooner. I think I can understand now about why it's being used in such a way around my home and town lately.

You're welcome. Glad to be of help. I'm happy that you understood what I was trying to explain. {That's not an assumption right, as you said 'both'} Haha, I've a penchant to confuse something easy with my explanations, hehe.. In any case, Baburra explained well what I was trying to point out.

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You were very understandable takibari. I could finally understand what the saying meant thanks to you and the other commentators in the thread. I'm just happy to finally be able to understand the idiom fully in it's correct form.

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  • 1 month later...

I understand why it is used to compare problems. A person may be complaining that they have poor quality shoes. Someone without shoes will also complain. The person with poor quality shoes is better off than the one without. They have a bird in hand. The one without shoes may see shoes displayed in a shop but cannot afford to buy. Those are two birds in the bush. I hope my example makes sense.

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  • 1 month later...

The other user answered it correctly, but I do this whenever I make a small bet. I am not talking about Las Vegas mega million betting, but just simple "if this happens, you owe me $--" After I win the bet, the other person challenges me, and asks if I want to go double or nothing. This is where I can choose to keep the bird in the hand, or go for two in the bush.

This is just a small example of what I think when I hear this idiom.

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  • 8 months later...

Wow I learned something new today! I'm gonna try and find an opportunity to use this whenever I can just because it makes me sound like some wise sage... Don't you think it's sometimes better tho to take some risk going for the 2 birds in the bush than settling with the one on hand?

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There's a similar expression in Serbian "Bolje vrabac u ruci nego golub na grani" which roughly translates to "Better a sparrow in hand than a pigeon on a branch" and I think it makes the whole thing a little clearer. Kinda weird to think what somebody would do with either a sparrow or a pigeon though.

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There's a similar expression in Serbian "Bolje vrabac u ruci nego golub na grani" which roughly translates to "Better a sparrow in hand than a pigeon on a branch" and I think it makes the whole thing a little clearer. Kinda weird to think what somebody would do with either a sparrow or a pigeon though.

It's really interesting how idioms are often similar in different languages! It's practically the same in Polish as it is in Serbian ("Better a sparrow in hand than a pigeon on the roof") andd in Russian we have a similar saying that says "Better a tit in hand than a сrane in the sky". A tit is a small bluish bird with yellow tummy, and a crane, obviously, is a much bigger bird.

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