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"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:

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)
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    Curiously The Routledge Book of World Proverbs (among other sources) says it is an Italian proverb: · ‎A closed mouth catches no flies. (Italian). books.google.it/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 19:22
  • 'Paremiology' is the formal study of proverbs; 'paremiography' is a formal label for proverb collections. See Introduction to Paremiology: A Comprehensive Guide to Proverb Studies, an open access textbook, for an interesting survey of the field. Erasmus's Adages was an early source for many paremiographies; the multi-volume translation of Adages is available for checkout at Internet Archive.
    – JEL
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 7:10

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The first written form of the proverb "A closed mouth catches no flies" appears to be in Catalan from late 1400s per an academic research paper about Catalan paremiology but it is concluded that the proverb is probably ultimately from Arabic. Here is the relevant excerpt from the paper:

Among satiric works incorporating proverbs – in which proverbs have an ironic purpose requiring paremiologic competency and involvement from the reader – we need mention Lo procés de les olives (1497) and Lo somni de Joan Joan (1497), both written inverse. In the first numerous proverbs are employed: “En boca serrada, no hi entra lamosca”,124...

...

124 This proverb most probably was transmitted from Arabic to the Mediterranean Romance languages. In Catalan there are two earlier references than the one found in Lo somni de Joan Joan. The ODEP registers:“A closed mouth catches no flies”.

Conca, Maria. “Maria Conca & Josep Guia, ‘Verba Volant, Scripta Manent: An Historical Panorama of Catalan Paremiology from Its Origins to the Renaissance.’” Proverbium 20, 71-94, 2003.
academia.edu

Then I've checked the ODEP (The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, by F. P. Wilson, 3rd edition, published in 1970) and found the year 1599 for the origin of the first written usage in English:

Close mouth catches no flies. A (Into a shut mouth flies fly not).

1599 MINSHEU Span. Gram. 83 In a closed vp mouth a flie cannot get in.

Note: John Minsheu (or Minshew) was an English linguist and lexicographer; and published the work Spanish Grammar in 1599.

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