The term “wouldn’t a harm a fly” is a common saying that means a person is mild, gentle, or kind.
Example: Susie felt that she was married to a wonderful man. He was always polite and respectful to her and others. He would frequently help with any chores that needed to be done around the house, and he made her feel appreciated. Thus, regarding this man, one might describe him as the type of guy who wouldn’t harm a fly.
The Origin – Wouldn’t Harm a Fly
There are plenty of people who would have not hesitate to harm a fly. In fact, many flies are killed every day with a little something called a fly-swatter. I’m sure you can understand why: These insects are quite annoying. Whether they annoyingly buzz around your head while you’re busy at work, or they land directly on that delicious meal you just prepared and were about to eat, flies are a pest.
Not only that, but flies are known to carry diseases with them. These diseases can then be transmitted to humans and animals, so add that to the list of problems. Anyways, the point is that most people would have no problem harming (aka killing) this little insect. They’re annoying. So, as this saying goes, if someone “wouldn’t harm a fly,” that person must be nonviolent, or gentle.
Okay, so how old is this phrase? The earliest I could find it is from the late 1700s. However, the wording is slightly different—it uses the word “hurt” in place of “harm.” This example is seen in The Critical Review, Or, Annals of Literature, 1778:
“The word that, he thinks, is therefore not to be considered as a conjunction, but as an article, or a pronoun: and to prove this, he produces, among many others, the following example: ‘I wish you to believe, that I would not willfully hurt a fly.'”
The earliest appearance I could find of the saying with the word “harm” in it is from the European Magazine and London Review, 1802:
“I remember a General whose generous nature would not harm a fly!”
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Here is a sentence example of this old saying being used in English:
- I was sitting at a bench in a park and someone passed by me with a big dog. I always get nervous around big animals, but the owner assured me that his dog wouldn’t harm a fly.