A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to send you a picture of what they are trying to explain? You could always use the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this saying.

Meaning

A picture is worth a thousand words” means that images tell a better story than words. By using images, you can convey your message in a visual representation that impacts others.

Example Usage

“Sandra spent an hour telling me about her vacation. I didn’t realize how beautiful the place was until I saw her pictures. It’s true what they say; a picture is worth a thousand words.”

A picture is worth a thousand words, and that picture has nothing good to say for itself.”

“Don’t you know that a picture is worth a thousand words? There’s no way you can deny involvement after they caught you on camera like that.”

Origin

The origin of the proverbial saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” comes from a reinterpretation of previous expressions in the early 1800s. The Works of Mr. James Thomson, published in 1802 has the earliest rendition of the phrase as the following.

One timely deed is worth ten thousand words

The phrase also appears in the play, “The Trust: A Comedy, in Five Acts,” published in 1808, where it reads.

That tear, good girl, is worth ten thousand words.”

The American Journal of Education also published an earlier rendition of the saying in 1858.

One fact well understood by observation and well-guided development is worth a thousand times more than a thousand words.”

However, the saying gained prominence in its modern form in America in the early 20th century.

Frederick R. Barnard published a column titled “One look is worth a thousand words” in the industry magazine “Printer’s Ink” in December 1921. Barnard claims the saying has Japanese origins, and Printers ink would later publish the phrase as the following.

Chinese proverb. One picture is worth ten thousand words.”

Phrases Similar to A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

  • Stop talking and send me a picture.
  • Pics, or it didn’t happen.

Phrases Opposite to A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

  • Words mean nothing.
  • Images are easy to falsify.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • A picture is worth a thousand words.
  • A picture says a thousand words.

Ways People May Say It Incorrectly

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” doesn’t mean that a picture contains a thousand words of information. It means that images are more valuable than words when explaining concepts of events. So, you wouldn’t use the phrase when you’re referring to the video or other media formats, only images.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase It

You can use “a picture is worth a thousand words” in several social and professional situations. For instance, you could request someone to send you a picture of an item you’re thinking about buying. You can also use the phrase to tell someone that a lot is going on in a specific image.

The phrase suits social and professional use. You could use it at work when you’re telling a supplier to stop talking about a product and send you a picture so you can get a visual image. You could use it at home to tell someone to send you a picture of their vacation so you can get an idea of their trip.

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