The term “wouldn’t a harm a fly” is a common saying that means a person is mild, gentle, or kind.
Example: I heard a rumor that Bryce got into a fight with someone at work. However, I’m hesitant to believe this because I have known the guy for years and, well, he wouldn’t harm a fly; he’s one of the nicest people I know!
The Origin – Wouldn’t Harm a Fly
How do you feel about flies? For me, I think they are neat little creatures. However, once they enter my home, they can become… annoying. You see, having a fly land directly on a plate of food I just prepared is irksome. Or while sitting at the computer, they decide to fly around my head, even after shooing them away several times! Yes, quite annoying indeed. In addition, flies sometimes carry certain diseases that are transmittable to humans. Yikes!
Basically, the point is that flies can be a nuisance. Because of this, many people would harm a fly once they enter their home. And this harm is often inflicted using a popular invention known as the fly swatter. So then, if someone “wouldn’t harm a fly,” as the saying goes, then they’re probably a gentle person. Well, that’s what this phrase means anyway. Moving on!
How old is this phrase? The earliest I could find it in print is from the late 1700s. However, the wording was 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 an example sentence of this saying in English:
- As I was sitting on a park bench, someone with a big dog came over and sat down next to me. Consequently, I felt uneasy because of the dog, but the owner assured me that she wouldn’t harm a fly.