Can you think of any sayings about change, especially ones expressing

  • how a big change must begin with a little change?
  • how certain institutions, ideas, or God remain eternally unchanged?

Note: the above is an edited version of @lovespring's question. See edit history for original question.


14 Answers 14


Something like these?

  • “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”
  • “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
  • 4
    I do like the oak/acorn proverb. The oldest recorded variant I think is in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, 1374: "as an ook cometh of a litel spyr". There is a lovely variant in D. Everett's The Columbian Orator, 1797: "Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow."
    – Orbling
    Jan 16, 2011 at 13:08
  • 1
    Also, Great oaks…
    – Jimi Oke
    Jan 17, 2011 at 1:26

It's not yet a saying per se, but the so-called butterfly effect is a modern theme popular in certain circles and commonly referred to in modern speech.

So, people sometimes say things like “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas”


The type of saying I think you’re looking for is called a proverb. There are plenty of online resources for those; for example, this list on Wikiquote.

On the subject of change, you might like the saying:

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Even in English speech or writing the original French is used, or it can be rendered in English as:

The more things change, the more they stay the same

  • +1 For proverb, as no one else saw fit to mention it yet.
    – Orbling
    Jan 16, 2011 at 14:51
  • I vehemently disagree that "even in English speech or writing the original French is used". I'm not sure I would have come up with the correct English translation if you hadn't posted it. If you're writing in English, best stick to writing in, well, English.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 17, 2011 at 16:12
  • 2
    @Martha: Maybe that's a geographic thing, then; in the UK a lot of people will be taught some French at school (as it's reasonably likely to be of practical use, given how close we are to France and how easy it is to get there), so a basic familiarity with the language is widespread (though by no means universal). I imagine the situation is similar in Canada, though I'm not sure how widely taught French is in the predominantly English-speaking regions. But I accept that in areas where French education is not commonplace, using French sayings in English writing may not be de rigueur... Jan 17, 2011 at 18:07

Small streams make large rivers


A small step for man ...


Here's another answer: The "for the want of nail..." proverb, which is somewhat related to FX_'s answer, the Butterfly Effect, in that both proverbs emphasize the power of insignificant things to cause momentous changes further on. However, in my observation, the Butterfly Effect is mostly referenced neutrally, and a few times even positively, say for example when describing the power of small act of kindness to enable the performer to reap larger "karmic" rewards later. On the other hand, the "for the want of the nail..." story usually has uniformly negative connotations, in emphasizing the role of unpreparedness in causing momentous tragedies in ventures of a complex nature.


Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things, will alter the face of the world.

Taken straight from the Berlin Wall

Viele kleine Leute, an vielen kleinen Orten, die viele kleine Dinge tun, werden das Gesicht der Welt verändern.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3145/2982009459_3e6cdf7241_z.jpg?zz=1enter image description here


There's also the snowball effect.

  • This implies something that gathers up momentum and size in the meer act of moving at all. I can't really tell if that's what the OQ was after or not.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 21, 2011 at 18:05
  • Penny-wise and pound-foolish
  • A stitch, in time, saves nine
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

    Based on the edited version of this question, here are some more:

  • Rome wasn't built in a day

  • "It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants" - New Testament Bible reference
  • "Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant" - lyrics in the song High Hopes about an ant moving a tree

how about:

a stitch in time saves nine

  • 7
    I don't know, this is more about timeliness than change...
    – F'x
    Jan 16, 2011 at 14:22
  • Look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves.

  • When a butterfly flaps its wings it creates a hurricane in the pacific.
    Or at least emacs users worry about their memory being changed.


At risk of sounding cynical, "changing things so everything stays the same" is a phrase I've read and heard a few times and which I find very interesting. It tries to convey the feeling that we strive to change so many things in the world as a way to preserve some other things as they are.

This connects with your comment that certain things remain eternally unchanged.

See here for an example.

Edit. The original source is apparently Il Gattopardo.


This one is "English", i.e. Scottish:

Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle

There's even been a question asked on it.


There are several:

  1. Little drops of water make the ocean big

  2. Small strokes fell great oaks

And one I came across here in English.SE:-

3) Many a mickle makes a muckle


A mighty oak from a tiny acorn grows.

Little streams make big rivers.

  • Please add a source to support that your examples are common sayings.
    – JJJ
    Oct 7, 2018 at 9:11

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