"A closed mouth catches no flies" is a proverb, and the origins of proverbs are almost always strange and murky; I'm not really expecting a definitive answer here. Wiktionary attributes the uncertainty of its origins to the fact that this is a common sentiment, one that has its own version in several languages:
Etymology: Unknown. Equivalent expressions are found in several languages, so it is difficult to tell if it originated in English or a different language.
What's clear is that it's old. Really old, though it seems to have started life as "A close mouth, without the '-d.' (I assume this because most of the early mentions I found used that spelling.)
It appears in a lot of different proverb-translating dictionaries:
- 1688, to French
- 1758, to German
- 1757, to Swedish
- 1749, to Italian
- 1708, to Nederduytsche
- 1691, to Nederduytsche (again)
One of the earliest mentions I can find is this one, from 1636, but the very earliest entry that I was able to find was from 1629, in the form of 'A closemouth catches no flyes.' (Also a dictionary.) Much later, this book from the late 18th century uses the proverb as a title for a short story.
Some suggest it's from Don Quixote, and this translation from 1749 does use it. From what I found, it appears to be the first time it appears naturally (i.e. not in a dictionary). One blog post says that it's a Brazilian proverb, but is lacking in details. This site says that it's from an Italian proverb but, also lacks details.
- Is this an 'original' English proverb, or an old translation of one from a foreign language?
- If so, which foreign language was it from, and what was the original version?
- If not, then when and where was its first use? (Naturally or in a dictionary)
- When, how, and why did it change from 'a close mouth' to 'a closed mouth'? (If this was even the case)