A good bargain is a pick-purse.

I'm an English learner. I came across this sentence, but even though I figured out all the individual words, I didn't get the meaning of the whole thing. So can someone please do that for me?


I believe this proverb simply means that one should beware of offers that seem too good to be true—that the offer might in fact be a scam, a con, or simply much worse that it first appears. The person making the offer is in fact a thief (perhaps metaphorically) for trying to deceive you into buying something far less valuable.

In a weaker sense, it may also be applied to mean that what appears to be a good deal may not be a deal at all if what you're buying has no use to you.


Alternatively to @pswg's answer, it could also mean that a bargain is very good (somewhat redundant given the use of good in the sentence as well). A common English phrase is "That bargain is a steal!" or "It's a steal at that price!" As a pick-purse is a theft, it's easy to see the correlation. Without the surrounding context of the sentence, it's difficult to be more conclusive.


I had never previously encountered the word "pick-purse" and had to look up its meaning to confirm my guess. I also didn't realise that the expression "A good bargain is a pick-purse" is/was a proverb (until I read the answer from @p.s.w.g).

"Pickpurse" is defined as "One who steals purses, or money from purses." [I initially assumed that this must be an AmE term, but it appears to date back at least to the 16th century.]

This is similar to the British word "pickpocket", which is defined as "a thief who steals from people's pockets, usually in crowded areas."

In AmE, "purse" usually refers to "a small bag used especially by a woman to carry everyday personal items", which in BrE would normally be called "a (woman's) handbag". (In BrE, "purse" refers to "a small container carried in the pocket or handbag, for keeping cash, etc. in".)

So pickpurse and pickpocket appear to be similar in referring to a thief who tries to steal from people's pockets and bags.

The proverb A good bargain is a pick-purse is attributed to George Herbert, Welsh poet (1593 - 1633), and listed in Dictionary of quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources, Rev. James Wood, 1893. I have been unable to find any explanation of the proverb's meaning.

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