I would like it to be explained, if it has a single meaning, it's confusing me, I see it could mean "please don't waste whatever you don't want", or just the opposite, i.e. "There is nothing without a waste".


The source of confusion are phrases like "no pain no gain" which are inversely arranged, I mean, the negation, "no" is before the Verb, like if "no Verb" were equal to "Verb not"

closed as off-topic by terdon, FumbleFingers, Mari-Lou A, Matt E. Эллен, Hellion Sep 13 '13 at 18:44

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    If you use too much wood glue putting the joints of your homemade bookcase together, you're going to have to go out and buy another bottle of the stuff sooner than necessary. – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 12 '13 at 16:14
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    I think this is Off Topic General Reference. Google waste not want not meaning and there are dozens of sites offering definitions. – FumbleFingers Sep 12 '13 at 16:34

Want in this proverb = need or lack.

So, the meaning is that if you don't waste X, you can avoid lacking or needing X. It is advising against waste because you might want it in the future.

It was allegedly first recorded in 1772 but had an earlier willful waste makes woeful want version recorded in 1576.

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    The older version is much better. – Malvolio Sep 12 '13 at 19:16

"Waste not, want not" is an idiom that has a specific meaning, but it is neither of the two meanings you suggested.

What it does mean, basically, is that if you do not waste that which you have (waste not), you will not later want that which you have wasted (want not).

The saying is meant to encourage those who waste resources not to do so, so that later when they look for resources, they will still have the unwasted resources at their disposal.

Edit: The confusion from the phrase "No pain, no gain" stems from the idea that the phrase "no pain, no gain" is negating both pain and gain. It is not. Both phrases mean that a lack of one thing leads to a lack of another. "No pain", as in if you do not suffer pain, "No gain" you will not gain anything. "Waste not" if you do not waste anything, "want not" you will not want anything.

The possible source for this confusion is the fact that the second half of the phrase, 'want not', implies having that which you need. But the phrase is "want not", meaning a lack of want (or need) for anything.

  • I've explained the source of confusion: in "no pain, no gain", "no" word is at left of the verb, and in "waste not, want not", the "not" word is on the right, it could be the same on english, but it's really not the same in other languages. – Hernán Eche Sep 12 '13 at 19:49
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    Ah, that makes some sense. It's fairly common to use the word "Not" to negate a verb. You might see it coming in front of a noun sometimes, but this is usually becuase it's placed after "Is", as in "It is not X". "No" actually has the same construct, as the full saying (if made into a full sentence) would be "If there is no pain, there is no gain", though sometimes the "is" can be dropped, as in "With no pain, there is no gain". – Zibbobz Sep 13 '13 at 13:30

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