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“The early bird catches the worm”: meaning

Proverbs and sayings have a long tradition. Again and again, animals are used in folk wisdom to clarify meaning – and sometimes nonsense. The saying “The early bird catches the worm” is particularly popular. But what does this sentence actually mean and where does it come from?


"The early bird catches the worm": A German saying?

Where does the phrase “the early bird catches the worm” come from? — Image: Shutterstock / Steve Byland

Pretty much everyone has heard the saying “The early bird catches the worm” – but did you know that the phrase doesn’t come from Germany? But from the beginning.

What does “The early bird gets the worm” mean?

“The early bird catches the worm” means: If you start doing things on time or are the first to appear at a certain place, you have a better chance of success. So it’s about gaining an advantage over potential competitors by acting early.

The proverb stems from the fact that at dawn the bird has a better chance of catching a worm. The latter ventures to the surface especially in the early hours of the morning when the soil is still damp from the dew.

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01/22/2013 – 11:27 am

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Saying comes from Great Britain

What a lot of people don’t know is that the phrase is actually not a German figure of speech, but has only been used in this country since the 1980s. The phrase originally comes from English.

The phrase was first used in 1670 in John Ray’s book “A collection of English proverbs”. There it said: “The early bird catches the worm”.

Alternatively, you can also say “First come, first served” or “The early morning catches the worm”. Even when it comes to idioms, many roads lead to Rome.

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