“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” is an old saying that means you shouldn’t get your hopes up or make plans based only on assumptions because that can lead to disappointment.
Example: A race is coming up and the prize for winning is $500. A runner named Gilbert will be entering and he feels confident that he will win the whole thing. In fact, he’s so confident that he’s already bought a brand new TV and he plans to use the prize money to pay for it!
Thus, it could be said that Gilbert is counting his chickens before they’ve hatched. Why? Because he is assuming that he will win the prize money from the race and has made plans based on those assumptions. This is unwise because that outcome is not guaranteed. In the end, Gilbert lost the race, so he had to return the TV.
Origin Of “Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch”
This expression goes back to at least the 16th century, which means it is at least 448 years old. It’s earliest known appearance in print (from what I’ve seen) is in a book called New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets by Thomas Howell, 1570:
“Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,
Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.”
Why Shouldn’t You Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch?
If you were in possession of a chicken and it laid three eggs, does that mean you will soon have three more chickens? If you said yes, well, as the saying goes, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. But why?
Because it is not guaranteed that all three of those chickens will hatch successfully and live. Complications can arise that result in them dying before they even have a chance to hatch. Thus, out of those three eggs, maybe only two of them survive. Or maybe none at all if things go really poorly.
Here is an example of this saying being used in a sentence:
- Louis was in the lead near the end of a bicycle race, so he raised his arms to celebrate his soon-to-be victory. However, he counted his chickens before they hatched because someone passed him in the last few seconds.
Note: Sometimes, a phrase’s origin is unclear. When that happens, theories might be listed that talk about how the phrase formed. Additionally, a quote of the expression in print will usually be listed on the page. Their purpose is to give the reader an idea on how old the saying is.