Glossary Home Proverbs

A bad workman blames his tools

“A bad workman blames his tools” is used when someone wants to remind another that they shouldn’t blame their tools for their mistakes. Instead, they should take responsibility for whatever they’ve done wrong.

It is an old, French proverb that dates back to at least the 13th century.

‘A bad workman blames his tools’ is widely used and widely understood. There are also several different iterations of the phrase (some of which are listed below).

A bad workman blames his tools


Meaning

“A bad workman blames his tools” is a proverb. It suggests that someone who blames their surroundings or tools for their mistakes is a “bad workman.”

Meaning, they are themselves to blame. If one can’t take responsibility for what they can and can’t do, then they are certainly at fault. The word “tools” is a metaphor that can apply to anything one might use to complete a task. These could be physical things or skills. The “workman” is a metaphor for the person completing the task. When using the phrase, it does not necessarily have to apply to someone who does manual labor.

When to Use

It’s possible to use “a bad workman blames his tools” in a wide variety of scenarios and situations. One might use it to pass judgment on another person they know. This could be a close relationship or a new one. It’s not a particularly kind statement so, someone who hears it directed at them might take offense. But at the same time, it’s also a statement that’s used to remind someone that they need to take responsibility for their actions. This is done in a fairly simple and not too critical way.

Consider, for example, one friend using this phrase to remind another that they need to try harder and see the truth in their mistakes. This could apply when someone blames a piece of technology when a mistake was their own or even when someone blames their employees when they should take responsibility themselves.

Example Sentences

  • You can’t forget that it’s a bad workman who blames his tools.
  • Then, he told us that it’s a poor workman who blames his tools, and we all accepted responsibility.
  • If only everyone would remember that it’s a poor workman who blames his tools, then the world would be a fairer place.
  • You can’t blame your tools when you’re at fault.
  • Only a poor workman would blame their tools in this situation.


Why Do Writers Use the Idiom?

Writers use “a bad workman blames his tools” in the same way and for the same reasons that the phrase is used in everyday conversation.

One might include it in a dialogue between two characters, with one critiquing the choices and complaints the other engaged in. Or, a narrator might use it to critique their own or someone else’s behavior. Because this proverb has been around for so long, it’s quite well-known. This means that most readers, if not all readers, are going to understand it. Plus, even if one has never seen it before, unlike idioms, proverbs are self-explanatory.

With a moment to consider the phrase, it’s likely anyone would still be at a loss for what it means. Because of this, writers can use the phrase in a wide variety of genres and contexts.

Origins

“a bad workman blames his tools” is an old proverb. It dates back to at least the 1400s, if not earlier. The first recorded iteration of the phrase read: “mauveés ovriers ne trovera ja bon hostill.” This translates to:

Bad workmen will never find a good tool.

This is very close to the contemporary versions of the phrase that are used today. A fact that is somewhat surprising considering how much time has passed. Often, proverbs and idioms change as time passes. So much so in some cases that they are almost unrecognizable.

Unsurprisingly though, there are several different iterations of the phrase. These include:

  • It is not the tools we use that make us good, but rather how we employ them.
  • Never had ill workman good tooles.
  • They say an ill workman never had good tools.
  • It is proverbial that the bad workman never yet had a good tool.
  • I’ve read somewhere that a poor workman quarrels with his tools.
  • It’s a poor workman who blames his tools.
  • A bad workman blames his tools.


FAQs

What is the purpose of the phrase “a bad workman blames his tools?”

It’s used to remind someone that they shouldn’t blame their tools for their mistakes. They should take responsibility for their actions when they’ve done something wrong. This is the only way to improve.

Who can use “a bad workman blames his tools?”

Anyone can use this phrase. But, it should be noted that it can come off as condescending and overly critical if used at the wrong time or by someone who doesn’t understand the situation.

Why are proverbs important?

Proverbs are important because they often represent universal sentiments about life, life’s struggles, faith, and more. These statements are widely applicable. This means that people from all walks of life are going to be able to connect with them.


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