Glossary Home Proverbs

The early bird gets the worm

“The early bird gets the worm” is an English proverb that dates back to the early 1600s. It refers to the advantage one has when they get started on something quickly, before anyone else.

It’s possible to use this phrase in a wide variety of situations. It could be used to remind someone that they need to work a bit harder or to explain one’s own actions. Furthermore, it’s quite well known, meaning that most readers are going to know exactly what it means. But, this also suggests that in most situations, it’s going to come across as cliché.

The early bird gets the worm meaning


Meaning of “The early bird gets the worm”

The early bird gets the worm is a proverb that suggests being first, or earliest, is an advantage.

This refers to one’s capacity to get to work quickly and ensure that no one else gets to the “worm” or the prize before you do. If you’re not the “early bird” someone else is going to be, and you’ll be left without any food. The bird is used to symbolize someone who works hard and needs a particular outcome. The worm is used to symbolize that outcome.

Origins of “The early bird gets the worm”

Like most proverbs, this one was an unclear origin. It was first recorded in A collection of English proverbs by John Ray in 1670 and again in 1678. At the time, the phrase read:

The early bird catcheth the worm.

Although there is very little information about where this proverb comes from, it’s clear that even in the late 1600s, it was well-known enough to be considered a proverb. It was included in this collection, meaning it was also probably known by some readers prior to this. This might indicate that it originated early in the same century. It’s fairly simple, especially compared to some proverbs. This means that from very early on, it was likely used in a wide variety of situations. It’s also notable that the phrase hasn’t changed very much since the first time it was recorded. This is often not the case.

When to Use the Proverb

It’s possible to use this phrase in different scenarios. It can, if used inappropriately, come across as patronizing or controlling. If used to talk down to someone, it can be demeaning as well. The best way to use it is in good humor with the intention of truly helping someone. One friend might use it to remind another of how important it is to start on something early, while another might use it to praise a friend for doing just that.

Example Sentences

  • Don’t forget, the early bird gets the worm.
  • The early bird always gets the worm, you know.
  • If you don’t get moving, another early bird is going to get the worm.
  • That’s the reason she’s succeeding, the early bird gets the worm.


Why Do Writers Use “The early bird gets the worm?”

Writers use “the early bird gets the worm” in the same way, and for the same reasons, it’s used in everyday conversations. It’s easy to imagine how a writer might include this phrase in their narration or in the dialogue between two characters. For example, one character might wake another up and remind them that the “early bird gets the worm,” providing them with the motivation they need to get to work. It should be noted that this phrase is extremely well-known. Therefore, in most situations, it’s likely to come across as cliché or, at the very least, ineffective. Most readers aren’t going to see it and think that it’s an original way of inspiring someone to work harder or earlier.

Depending on the writer, it is possible to use the proverb in new and interesting ways. For example, someone might use it sarcastically or include it in dialogue written for a character who is notorious for over quoting proverbs. This could create humor in the right situation.

FAQs

Is the early bird gets the worm an idiom?

No, “the early bird gets the worm” is a proverb. The difference is that a proverb provides a piece of universally accepted knowledge. It often tries to teach a lesson or inform someone of the best way to live their life. Idioms are often less clear and need more context to understand.

Who said the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese?

This clever parody of the original proverb is attributed to Jim Horning. Horning has stated that it, in fact, dates back to the 1200s. It suggests that in some situations, it’s better to be first, but in others, it’s even more powerful to be second. In this case, the first mouse is killed by the trap, and the second gets the bait.

When can I use “the early bird gets the worm?”

It’s possible to use this phrase when you’re among friends, family members, and close colleagues. It’s also suitable for some more professional situations. It’s going to depend on what it references.


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