What is the meaning and origin of the idiom 'once bitten twice shy'?

closed as off-topic by Hellion, choster, user66974, RyeɃreḁd, Mari-Lou A May 5 '14 at 18:42

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references" – Hellion, choster, Community, RyeɃreḁd, Mari-Lou A
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


As below,

"William Caxton, the first English printer, gave the earliest version of this saying in 'Aesope' , his translation of Aesop's fables: 'He that hath ben ones begyled by somme other ought to kepe hym wel fro(m) the same.'

The history:

Centuries later, the English novelist Robert Surtees referred to the saying in 'Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour' with '(He) had been bit once, and he was not going to give Mr. Sponge a second chance.' The exact wording of the saying was recorded later that century in 'Folk Phrases of Four Counties' by G.G. Northall and was repeated by, among others, the English novelist Joseph Conrad (1920, 'The Rescue'), the novelist Aldous Huxley (1928, 'Point Counter Point'), and the novelist Wyndham Lewis (1930, 'The Apes of God'). 'Once bitten, twice shy' has been a familiar saying in the twentieth century." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

A variation, "once burned, twice shy," is also traced back to "Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour." "Once burned" was "First attested in the United States in 'Dead Sure' by S. Sterling." The meaning of the saying is "One who had an unpleasant experience is especially cautious." From the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996). -http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/10/messages/453.html


once bitten twice shy- when something or someone has hurt you once, you tend to avoid that thing or person.

it is something that you say which means when you have had an unpleasant experience you are much more careful to avoid similar experiences in the future


The Internet consensus is that the phrase traces back to an English printer (William Caxton), the first to publish a translation in to English of Aesop's tales -- in 1484.

The moral of one of Aesop's stories was translated by Caxton as "He that hath ben ones begyled by somme other ought to kepe hym wel fro(m) the same". That has been rephrased and rephrased over the years, until early into the 20th century when it evolved into the tidy current phrasing.

The fable itself is about a wolf who threatens to eat a dog. The dog says "Not now, wait until after I have been fed and am fatter". Dumb wolf lets dog go. When wolf returns he can't get at the dog to eat the dog, and the dog says something along the lines of "Don't be so stupid again". Modern Moral: "Once bitten twice shy", although Caxton's "He that has been fooled once by another ought to keep away from that same person in the future" makes more sense in context of the original story.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.