The Chinese saying "Three years old fixes eighty" (三歲定八十) means roughly: From the character and personality traits revealed by a three year old, one can infer that he will have similar traits as an eighty year old. So e.g. if a three year old does something crafty or sneaky, the parent might use this idiom to mean (usually half-jokingly) that he will be just as crafty or sneaky when he is eighty.

Is there an English idiom that closely corresponds to this Chinese idiom?

(Briefly Googling, one blogger claims that Wordsworth's "The Child is father of the Man" is suitable, but I am not sure if this is really what Wordsworth meant, and even if it were, this idiom seems to be rarely if ever used. )

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    We would have to be thoroughly knowledgeable with what the Chinese means to attempt this, so I am fairly sure this question is beyond the scope of what we can answer here on English Language & Usage.
    – Robusto
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 14:41
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    @Robusto The idiom is explained quite well and adequately in the question, I’d say. If there is an idiom in English that expresses the same notion, that should be answerable enough (though I can’t think of any off the top of my head). Interpreting what Wordsworth meant is arguably off-topic as lit crit, but the other part of the question seems entirely within the scope of ELU to me. Commented May 16, 2015 at 15:25
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: The primary question here, as expressed by the OP, is about whether Wordsworth's words are the best translation of something that would require expert-level Chinese to render an informed opinion on. I am not prepared to stipulate that the OP has the required expertise. If the OP can edit the question to be more on topic, I'll withdraw my objection. For the record, I did not vote to close.
    – Robusto
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 16:06

4 Answers 4


According to the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,

As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.

as the poet Alexander Pope wrote around 1732, means early influences have a permanent effect.

  • "The nut doesn't fall far from the tree"
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 17:28
  • @drew that's why it's a comment, related to this answer, and not an answer itself.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:22
  • I have corrected the quote and added a citation. Please remember to include your references.
    – choster
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 20:06

"The child is the father of the man" does fit here.

  • "Every man was once a child, and his character has developed from his character as a child. In the same way his body has developed from the child's body, so in two ways the child can be called "father of the man"." A. Johnson, Common English Proverbs

Although the vast majority of expressions involving the ability of wine and people (usually women) to improve with age are framed as positive comparisons, which render the opposite of what you are seeking (people/women, like wine, improve with age), I have heard the expression used negatively to contrast these abilities, which comes pretty close to the notion you seek:

People, unlike wine, don’t improve/mature/get better with age.


"Give me the child at seven and I will show you the man." is an old Jesuit saying.


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