once bitten,twice shy

Discussion in 'English Only' started by igma, Dec 30, 2009.

  1. igma Banned


    i found this phrase within a list of proverbs

    Could anyone put it into context by giving example sentences?

    Thank you
  2. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    "He bought his wife a nice bracelet from an internet store and when it came it turned out to be plastic, not silver as advertised. He'll never order from that website again. Once bitten, twice shy."
  3. Jenawen22 Senior Member

    United States, English
    If somebody is said to be once bitten twice shy, it means that someone who has been hurt or who has had something go wrong will be far more careful the next time.
    It's something that you say when you have had an unpleasant experience and are going to be more careful to avoid a similar experience in the future.

    Example: After he left her she refused to go out with anyone else for a long time - once bitten, twice shy, I suppose.

    The closest proverb in spanish would be: <<Non-English deleted. >>

    I hope this helps!
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 30, 2009
  4. SwissPete

    SwissPete Senior Member

    94044 USA
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    Here is how wiki explains once bitten, twice shy:
  5. igma Banned

    thank you very much

    happy new year
  6. splash_jony Member

    China - Cantonese
    Hi all

    I think most people would know this sentence is refer to the lyric of "last christmas".
    I don't really know what the exact meaning is. I guess it means "I've been very shy since I was bitten." If so, what is "twice"? It means "more" ? How could I use it appropriately in other situation?
    Could somebody give me some suggestion?
    Thank you.
  7. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I've merged your post with an older thread on this topic. Please see older posts for an explanation.

    The pattern is "once" meaning the first time, and "twice" meaning the second time it happens. After one has been bitten for the first time (once), one is wary of the same situation when it occurs the next time (twice).

    Proverbs are often set in as few words as possible to make them, as they say, "pithy". They also tend to use poetic or rhetorical devices that are not used in normal speech.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2011
  8. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    Chino, California
    English, AE
    I see it slightly differently than MM.

    I see it meaning once you are bitten, you will be shyer by a measure of twice the usual shyness, therefore more hesitant than usual to ever engage in the same activity or business that first "bit" you so as to never be bitten a second time. It makes one doubly shy. It only takes one time, not two.

    It has no association with public or social shyness nor with any song lyrics. It is an old adage from long ago.
  9. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    Perhaps "most," definitely not all. Not everyone in the world, or here, is a rock fiend. Personally, I have no idea what "last christmas" is, who wrote or "sang" it, or whether the second word is deliberately not capitalized to denigrate a Christian holy day.

    "Once bitten, twice shy" is a proverb with its origins in the time when most English-speaking people were associated with animals that could bite them and were able to observe the behavior of both domestic and farm animals. A person who had been bitten by an animal, or an animal that had been bitten by another (say, a horse by a dog), would be especially careful to avoid encounters with the same animal (would be "shy") in the future. The "twice" refers to the degree of avoidance, not to the number of encounters.

    There is a very similar saying from when it was common accidentally to brush up against a hot wood- or coal-burning stove: "Once burned, twice shy." In that case, the experience of being burned by a hot stove would make one especially careful in the future to avoid getting close to the stove when it was hot.

    Both are now metaphors in which a biting animal or a hot stove represent any unpleasant experience whose circumstances could be repeated in the future. It could be rejection by someone with whom one had (or hoped to have) a romantic or sexual relationship, it could be bad treatment by a retailer or employer, it could be betrayal by a politician or political party.
  10. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    I couldn't agree with you more, pops.
    The "corresponding" proverb in Italian has to do with water and goes more or less like this: "If you've scalded yourself with hot water, you'll become scared of cold water too."
    All the best.
  11. Bevj

    Bevj Allegra Moderata

    Girona, Spain
    English (U.K.)
    I agree with MM.
    In my opinion, the phrase doesn't mean 'twice as shy', but that the second time one will be more wary.
  12. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    English - Australia
    I'm with Matching Mole - the "twice" refers to second and subsequent encounters (after the first bad one).

    The first time(s), you probably weren't "shy" at all, that is, you just went ahead confidently. (the proverb does not mean shy as in not liking to meet people)

    Having had a bad experience, you are now "shy" about having another bad experience, so from now on, you'll be much more careful, or avoid that situation altogether.
  13. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    Chino, California
    English, AE
    AE vs BE? It sure looks that way because it sure doesn't mean that here. To tell you the truth I hand no idea it went beyond the shores of the U.S. and have always thought it was an old adage from southern roots since that is where I first heard it said.
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have always assumed the "twice" referred to the second time - if I thought about it at all.
    The idea that it might mean "twice as shy" hasn't occurred to me.

    From The Phrase Finder:
    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.' 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).
    The relevant definition of "twice" from the OED:
    Contextually: A second time; for the second time.
    I wonder where the idea of "twice as shy" originated?
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I'm wondering if 'shy' is not the verb, as in "shy away from".
  16. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    English - Australia
    What an excellent thought! I'd forgotten about that meaning.
    Once bitten, twice shy away from - makes wonderful sense. :)
  17. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    (1) Neither "once" nor "twice" is usually used as an adverb in the kind of phrasing that "Once bitten, twice shy" represents. If "once" means not "occuring only one time" but "Having occurred," then the usual way of saying that one would be shy on a subsequent occasion although one had not been on a previous occasion would be "Once bitten, second time shy" or "Once bitten, later shy." It has never occurred to me that "once bitten, twice shy" really means "If bitten the first time, I will be shy the second time even though I was not the first time" or "First time bitten, second time shy."

    (2) That dictionary entry doesn't say that "twice" means "for a second time" when placed before an adjective. To use "twice" to mean "for a second time" I think it has to be at the end of a sentence. I have a hard time substituting "twice" for "(on) the second time" in the following:
    The second time he fired, he hit the target.:tick:
    Twice he fired, he hit the target.:cross:
    He got off one shot, but then his gun misfired when he pulled the trigger a second time.:tick:
    He got off one shot, but then his gun misfired when he pulled the trigger twice.:cross: [This is a possible sentence, but is there anyone here would not interpret it to mean that the gun misfired because his second and third pulls of the trigger were made too close together?]
    In 1999, they won the championship for a second time.:tick:
    In 1999, they won the championship twice.:cross: [Again, a possible sentence, but does anyone here not think it means that they won the championship on two different occasions within calendar year 1999, whereas the first means that they won only once in 1999 and might have won the first time in 1899?]

    (3) Therefore, I've always interpreted the second part of the phrase, which I have used personally, in either the "bitten" or the "burned" form, as an obsolescent form that omits the usual "as." If one were writing this from scratch in the 21st century, it would probably be "If I'm bitten the first time, I'll be twice as shy the second time" or "However cautious I was initially, I only have to be burned once to be twice as shy the second time." It might then be boiled down to "Once burned, twice as shy." But in the 21st century, Americans, at least, are not likely to use "shy" for "cautious" or "careful," so it would be "Once burned, twice as careful."
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I still wonder where the "twice as shy" interpretation originated.

    The OED definition quite clearly allows for this expression to mean:
    Once bitten, a second time shy.

    To have the other meaning, one would have to have been "shy" on the first occurrence.

    Let's set aside analysis and see if there is any justification for two times as shy. The external evidence so far does not support that explanation.
  19. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    Nobody ever sat down and explained it in detail to me, I had to figure out what it meant by hearing and reading it. It's not common late 20th to early 21st century century syntax. I have explained why I did not ever think it meant "shy the second time but not at all shy the first time."

    If one was only a little shy (had only 1 drop of shyness) the first time, one could be "twice as shy" the second time by having 2 drops of shyness. If one was very cautious or reluctant on the first occasion (100 drops of shyness), one could still be "twice as shy" (200 drops of shyness) on any second occasion.

    In either case, I think it still means that after a disagreeable experience, one is more cautious on future such occasions, whether one was slightly cautious or completely confident the first time.
  20. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    English - Australia
    Idiom Definitions for 'Once bitten, twice shy'
    If somebody is said to be once bitten twice shy, it means that someone who has been hurt or who has had something go wrong will be far more careful the next time. UsingEnglish.com list of idioms

    One is cautious in the future if he has been hurt in the past. wiktionary.org

    1 - a single time
    2 - formerly
    3 - at any time; ever

    1 - two times in succession
    2 - on two occasions
    3 - double the amount or degree

    In this saying, they have combined the third meaning for "once" with the second meaning for "twice". It is a bit of a play on words, that may have made more sense at the time, but that's the root of it, as attested by the fuller saying "(He) had been bit once, and he was not going to give Mr. Sponge a second chance.", as provided by panjandrum.
  21. mconforto New Member

    Portuguese - Brazil
    I've been wondering about this for a while, and I believe "Having been hurt sometime, one becomes 'twice as much' careful" makes more sense than "more careful 'the second time it happens'" for a few reasons. First, it's given that "bitten" is understood figuratively, as "having had a sudden unpleasant experience". Even if we stretch the meaning of 'bitten', for the idiom to still make sense, I think it still would always mean something that occurs without warning and, to that extent, cannot be anticipated.

    Of course, that same sudden unpleasant experience could happen again, so being cautious is directed at avoiding it. Therefore, the saying must not mean that you'll be careful "the second time around", because it either doesn't happen again because you were careful OR it does because you were not careful enough (and you're at ground zero).

    Also, "twice as careful" makes more sense to the extent that the first bad experience happened not because of a complete lack of care, but rather on *not enough* care, due to the fact that the duty of care is performed intinctively and permanently, however in diferent degrees, and even if you couldn't anticipate the action or its consequences. It's not like you are 'now' careful, but you become "more careful" afterwards ('twice as' shy).

    Last, but not least, I think the use of "once/twice" is just an interesting play with words, intended at surprising the interpreter/listener with an unexpected meaning of correlated words, such as in "Sometimes I wake up grumpy, sometimes I let her sleep until late". My $0.02
  22. Smauler Senior Member

    Ipswich, Suffolk, England
    British English
    This phrase is almost certainly at least many hundreds of years old, and may have survived lots of language drift.

    Personally, I just take it to mean that anyone who has had a bad experience is unlikely to risk that experience again.

    Trying to catch chickens is a prime example of this... you can get them if you know them, and they let you get close. When you miss, and they fly off in a squawking tornado, you're not going to get them any time soon without a fight.
  23. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I'm an AE speaker, I've been familiar with this saying since I was a kid, and I've always understood it the way eni8ma, Matching Mole and others do - once you've been bitten, you'll be careful on further occasions. This thread (which I've just found today) is the first time I've ever heard anyone offer the "twice as much" interpretation.

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