“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’s feeling confident that he’ll 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’s only assuming that he will win the prize money from the race and he’s made plans based on those assumptions. However, 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”
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. Yes, 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.
Anyways, this expression goes back to at least the 16th century, and it’s at least 448 years old. It’s earliest appearance in print (that I know of) 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.”
Here is an example of this saying being used in a sentence:
- Louis thought he could breeze through his history test without studying for it, so he played games instead. However, he counted his chickens before they hatched because it was much harder than he realized.
Note: Sometimes, a phrase’s origin is unclear. When that happens, I will list explanations that talk about it may have originated and include these on the page. If no theories exist, then you can still find a quote of the expression.
These quotes are usually the oldest known appearance of the expression in print. The purpose of these quotes is to give you an idea for how old the saying is.