Antedating Proverb "once bit twice shy" (1806) "singed" (1837)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 16 10:33:25 UTC 2009

The proverb "once bitten twice shy" appears in the Yale Book of
Quotations and in A Dictionary of Proverbs from Oxford. Both
references also list "once burned twice shy" as a U.S. variant.

YBQ has an 1849 cite and ADOP has an 1853 cite for "once bitten twice
shy". A few pertinent posts in the ADS archives culminate in 1850 as
the earliest cite.

Below is a citation from 1806 for "Once bit twice shy". The context
suggests that the phrase was a maxim in 1806. There is a gap in my
search results until 1835 when the phrase reappears. The variant "once
singed twice shy" occurs in 1837 and is described as a jockey
principle. Compare with "once burned twice shy" mentioned above.

Flaws in OCR (optical character recognition) complicated the search
and generated some amusing variants. The 1806 instance below matches
with "once bit twice sly" and the 1835 cite matches with "once hit
twice shy".

Citation: 1806, Lady Maclairn: the Victim of Villany, Vol. III by
Rachel Hunter, page 254, W. Earle and J.W. Hucklebridge, London.

My wife says that the Captain is very fond of her, and if all be gold
that glitters, I am to believe that he doats upon her; but once bit
twice shy, is the maxim uppermost with me, when the Captain is

Citation: 1835 August, "The Barbarian Eye" in Fraser's Magazine, page
167, Vol. 12, London.

Had it not been for the dreadful disappointment he had sustained in
the morning, he would have gratified his curiosity; but, reflecting on
the wise saw, of which there are so many modern instances, namely,
"once bit twice shy," he made the best of his way to Newman's, and
stepped into his carriage, solemnly enjoining the coachman to drive to
the Zoological Gardens.

Citation: 1837 July, The Medico-Chirurgical Review and Journal of
Practical Medicine, No. 53, Page 265, S. Highley, London.

Hence the mistakes in diagnosis, hence the caution of experienced
practitioners, caution founded on the jockey principle, "once singed,
twice shy!"

Google Books also yields a confusing match to a work that is dated
1562 titled "The proverbs, epigrams, and miscellanies of John
Heywood". Heywood did collect proverbs in this time frame. But this
book was published in 1906 according to WorldCat, and the proverb
"once bit, twice shy" appears as an additional comment that probably
was appended to the 1906 edition, though I am not certain of this.


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