The proverb suggests that you should work as efficiently as possible at the beginning. This should save you time later on. It likely originated sometime around the early 1700s or late 1600s, but its first use is unknown. It first appeared in print as an established proverb in 1732. Today, “a stitch in time saves nine” is fairly commonly used, enough to where it’s usually considered cliché.
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Meaning of “A stitch in time saves nine”
The English proverb “A stitch in time saves nine” is an interesting one. It refers to how helpful working efficiently is.
If someone works quickly now, then they won’t have to do as much work later. The “stitch in time” part of the phrase refers to actions one takes now that prevent wasted time later. If you make one efficient stitch, you will be able to save the time other stitches would take later. This proverb is different from some of the more commonly used ones in that it’s not self-explanatory. Most proverbs (unlike idioms) are easy to understand. For example, a similar phrase is “a penny saved is a penny earned.” An explanation for this phrase is entirely unnecessary.
Origins of “A stitch in time saves nine”
This phrase was first used in print in Gnomologia: A Collection of the Proverbs, Maxims and Adages That Inspired Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanackby Thomas Fuller. At the time, the word “may” was used. It read:
A stitch in time may save nine.
According to Phrases, it wasn’t until 1797that the phrase was used without the word “may.” It appeared in Francis Bailey’s Journal. He wrote the following:
After a little while we acquired a method of keeping her [a boat] in the middle of the stream, by watching the moment she began to vary, and thereby verifying the vulgar proverb, ‘”A stitch in time saves nine.”
Like most proverbs and idioms, it takes time for the original version of the phrase to evolve to its common modern form. It’s unsurprising that when it was first used it looked slightly different.
When to Use the Proverb
It’s possible to use “a stitch in time saves nine” in a very wide variety of circumstances. One could use it when they’re speaking about an action they’ve taken or are planning on taking. Or, it might be used to recommend a certain course to someone else. It is a colloquialism, but it’s interesting enough to where might use it in more casual work conversations as well. All that being said, it’s unlikely that any proverb or idiom is going to add to one’s professional persona in a business meeting or other academic setting. This means that one should probably use this phrase among friends, family members, and close colleagues and not when discussing the next business deal at work.
It’s possible to imagine a situation in which one friend wants to procrastinate on their work at the beginning of the day, and someone uses this phrase to encourage them to work more efficiently right away rather than saving work for later. This is probably the most common way the phrase is used.
- Remember, a stitch in time saves nine. You should go ahead and get your work done.
- If you want to have time later, remember a stitch in time saves nine.
- A stitch in time saves nine, I always say. That’s why I get my work done efficiently every day.
- My mother always told me that a stitch in time saves nine. But, I’m not sure about how realistic that proverb is.
- A stitch in time saves nine is a saying for people who always get their work done on time.
- There are benefits to procrastinating, despite what the proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” suggests.
Why Do Writers Use “A stitch in time saves nine?”
Writers use “a stitch in time saves nine” in the same way and for the same reasons that the phrase is used in everyday conversations. It could be used in a dialogue between two characters who are debating whether or not to get their work done now or to put it off until later. One might use the proverb as a way of promoting the former. In another situation, someone might use “a stitch in time saves nine” as part of their narrator’s depiction of an event or scene. For example, imagine someone narrating a scene and explaining someone else’s actions using this proverb.
It should be noted that, like most proverbs, this one is quite well-known. This, unfortunately, makes it more difficult to use. It’s not going to come across as original or especially interesting in a written work. A reader might read it and feel as though the writer lacks creativity. Alternatively, they might read and feel as though they can relate to the dialogue.
People use the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” when they want to promote a particular way of getting work done. It could be used to encourage a friend to work more efficiently.
The phrase was first recorded in 1732, but it’s unclear where exactly it originated. It appeared in Gnomologia: A Collection of the Proverbs, Maxims, and Adages That Inspired Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanack. This book was the source for many other proverbs that are well-known today.
It’s okay to use this phrase in almost all conversations. But, you likely should avoid using it in very professional settings as it may not add to one’s professional persona.
The “nine” in a “stitch in time saves nine” refers to a future number of stitches that are saved through thoughtful use of one’s time.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- A bad workman blames his tools.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
- It’s always darkest before the dawn.
- You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
- Slow and steady wins the race.