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Look before you leap

“Look before you leap” is a common English proverb. It’s used to remind someone to take their time before making a decision. 

The proverb uses a metaphor, comparing making a decision to physically jumping into the unknown. But, after taking the time to “look,” that jump becomes far less dangerous. The phrase may be used in a variety of situations, including among friends, family members, etc. It may not be the most appropriate or professional-sounding phrase to use in some settings. That being said, “look before you leap” is well understood by most English speakers.

Look before you leap


“Look before you leap” Meaning 

“Look before you leap” is a simple proverb that reminds those who hear it to consider all their options before making a choice, especially an important one.

If you “look” or consider everything around you before you “leap” or make a decision, then you’re more likely to make the correct one and not do something you’re going to regret. Once you’ve considered all the possible outcomes of a scenario, it’s easier to deal with whatever comes, as well as decide if those outcomes are something you’re willing to face. 

It’s easy to consider the metaphor in the opposite direction as well. If you don’t look before you leap, it’s possible that you metaphorically land on something or somewhere that’s dangerous or not what you expected. 

Origins 

The phrase “look before you leap” has an unknown origin. This is not uncommon for proverbs and idioms. Many originated centuries ago in stories, speeches, and conversations that are lost to time.  Some have suggested that this proverb may have its origins in stories such as Aesop’s fables and other moralizing tales. This is possible considering that other well-known proverbs also originated in similar sources. The phrase was first noted in ‘A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue,’ as cited by Phrases. In this context, it read: 

And though they seeme wives for you never so fit,

Yet let not harmfull haste so far out run your wit:

But that ye harke to heare all the whole summe

That may please or displease you in time to cumme.

Thus by these lessons ye may learne good cheape

In wedding and all things to looke ere ye leaped

In this example, the phrase is almost exactly in the same form that it’s used in today. This is quite remarkable as, more often than not, proverbs and idioms change over time. 

When To Use “Look before you leap” 

It’s possible to use “look before you leap” in a wide variety of situations. For example, one might use it among friends, family members, or alongside close colleagues. As with most proverbs, it’s best used in more colloquial conversations rather than in professional settings. Although this is not the most casual of all proverbs, it likely won’t have a place in an academic paper or within a business meeting or related scenario. 

When among friends, one might use this phrase to remind someone about to make a rash decision that it may benefit them to “look before they leap.” This proverb can be a catchall. Because it’s so vague, it can apply to a wide variety of situations. For example, the phrase could be used when one person is about to quit a reliable job out of anger. A friend might tell them to “look before they leap” and make sure they’ve considered the fallout of losing that job. Or, in another situation, you might use the phrase to remind a family member that it might not be in their best interest to bring up a contentious topic at dinner. It’s better to “look before you leap” and be prepared to deal with a fight that might break out. 

Example Sentences

  • You better look before you leap or you may end up somewhere you didn’t want to be. 
  • Look before you leap or you risk suffering unknown consequences. 
  • It was only because I took the time to look before I leaped that I survived at all. 
  • I was about to quit my job when I realized I should probably pause and look before I leaped. 
  • My mother always told me that it was important to look before you leap and I did just that. 


Why Do Writers Use “Look before you leap?”

Writers use “look before you leap” in the same way and for the same reasons that it’s used in everyday conversation. The phrase could be incorporated into a dialogue between two characters or used within a narrator’s inner dialogue. For example, they might be observing a scene and comment that one person is going to need to look before they leap if they want to make any good decisions in a difficult situation. 

FAQs

Why do people use “look before you leap?” 

People use “look before you leap” in order to remind someone that they need to take the time to consider their actions before taking them. If they don’t, they risk leaping and encountering something they weren’t prepared for. 

Where did “look before you leap” come from? 

The phrase “look before you leap” has an unknown origin. It may have originated within a fable or other moralizing story. It is a fairly simple idea that would easily fit within a short tale aimed at children. 

What is look before you leap an example of? 

“Look before you leap” is an example of a proverb. It is a short, moralizing saying that tries to teach the listener something. In this case, it is trying to teach someone to consider their actions before taking them. This includes what outcomes are going to result. 

Why is it important to look before you leap? 

It’s important to look before you leap because if you don’t, you might discover something upon your landing that you didn’t expect. The proverb suggests that this is going to be something negative. 


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