Glossary Home Proverbs

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” refers to one’s ability to succeed with sweetness over cruelty or unpleasantness.

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is a commonly used proverb found in the English language, as well as in others such as Italian. The phrase has different iterations, but the most commonly used nouns are flies, honey, and vinegar. This phrase is used as a reminder that kindness, attractiveness, and sweetness are better ways of getting what one wants than “vinegar.” 

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar

 

Meaning of “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” 

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” suggests that good deeds, kind words, or kindness, in general, can take one farther than “vinegar” can. The latter refers to unpleasantness and cruelty, relating to the bitter taste of vinegar and the sweetness of honey. While the phrase uses “flies” in the text, this creature is only a metaphor for anything that one wants to achieve or gain. 

Depending on how the phrase is used, this might be something positive or negative for everyone else. The image of a fly attracted to and then becoming trapped in honey is not a positive one. Therefore, when using this phrase (or when hearing it), one should be aware that the outcome might not be positive for everyone. 

 

When to Use “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” 

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” can be used in regular, everyday conversations with friends, family, and close colleagues. While this phrase is not as colloquial as some, it does lend itself to more intimate conversations rather than speeches or formal papers. It’s more likely that the phrase will be heard while walking down the street than in an academic setting, although the latter is not impossible. 

The phrase could be used when one friend is seeking to remind another that “honey,” or sweetness of some kind, is more likely to result in one’s desired outcome than obviously cruelty or unpleasantness, the vinegar. One might also think these lines to themselves, reminding themselves that they need to act a certain way in order to achieve what they want. 

 

Example Sentences With “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” 

  • Don’t forget. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. 
  • You know what they say about honey and vinegar. You’re not likely to get the outcome you want if you keep acting that way. 
  • Yesterday my boss reminded me that I should use more honey than vinegar while talking to clients. 

 

Why Do Writers Use “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar?” 

Writers use “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” for the same reasons that one might use or hear it in an everyday conversation. The words evoke a certain way of dealing with a situation that most readers should easily understand. Due to the widespread use of this proverb and its evident meaning, it’s more likely than not that readers will read the line and know exactly what the speaker or narrator is trying to convey. But, it’s always important when writing to consider how and why a phrase is being used. Who would use this in everyday speech? And when it’s used, will it come across naturally? 

 

Origins of “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” 

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is like the majority of proverbs used today. Its origins are not widely known and are still debated by some. For example, in the United States, it’s commonly believed that the phrase originates somewhere that it doesn’t. The confusion with a proverb’s origins relates to the fact that they change over time, and the first use or creation of a phrase is often not documented or gets lost over time. 

In the case of “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” the phrase is first seen in print in 1666 in A common place of Italian proverbs and proverbial phrases, published by Giovanni Torriano. There, the phrase reads:

Il mele catta più mosche, che non fà l’aceto. 

This translates to a slightly different version of the phrase used today. Lovers of language will also know that these phrases change over time. This means that some iterations of idioms and proverbs use different words, for example, the word “apple” rather than “honey.” 

As mentioned above, some, especially in the United States, believe the phrase was first used by Benjamin Franklin. This is due to the fact that it appeared in Poor Richard’s Almanack, published in 1744. In this publication the line read: 

Tart Words make no Friends: spoonful of honey will catch more flies than Gallon of Vinegar.

Here, he makes the phrase easy to understand by adding the extra words “tart words make no friends” before speaking about honey and flies. 

 

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