Don’t Count Your Chickens Before they Hatch – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to temper their expectations? If so, you can use “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The proverbial expression “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” means you should temper your expectations with an imagined outcome.

It’s a way of telling people that they need to be patient and wait for the result rather than get overexcited and find themselves facing disappointment at a poor outcome.

The saying is a way of telling someone that they should stop being hasty with evaluating their assets. It’s also another way of telling someone that they might not get what they expect, and they should dial their enthusiasm back a notch.

Example Usage

“I know you think you’re a shoo-in for the promotion, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch. I overheard the manager saying they’re looking at three candidates, not only you.”

“So, you think the republican party will win the mid-term elections? Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. The polls are too close.”

“I know this trade looks profitable, but the reality is you never know which way the market will go. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and take some insurance by buying puts to cover you.”

“I think we will have great weather for the boat trip this weekend. However, I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch. You never know when a storm will arrive out of nowhere.”

“I can see Greg is counting those dollars in his head before he even makes his first sale. There’s no guarantee the product will sell. Someone needs to tell him don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

“You don’t know if Bitcoin will be $100K, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Origin

The origin of the expression “don’t count your chickens before they hatch comes from “New Sonnets and pretty Pamphlets,” written by Thomas Howell in 1570.

“Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,

Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee”

The phrase would appear as its more modern phrasing in 1664, in the poem “Hudibras,” written by Samuel Butler in 1664, where it appears as follows.

“To swallow gudgeons ere they’re catch’d, And count their chickens ere they’re hatched.”

Similar Phrases

  • Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
  • Don’t change horses in midstream.
  • Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Opposite Phrases

  • It’s locked in.
  • A sure thing.
  • Shoo-in.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Ways People May Say It Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with chickens. The “chicken” is your expectation, and “hatch” refers to the manifestation of those expectations. Using “don’t count your chickens before they arrive” would be incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase It

You can use the saying “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” when you’re trying to tell someone that there is no future guarantee on their expectations.

The phrase suits social and professional use. It’s also common for people to use the abbreviated saying “don’t count your chickens.”

You could use it at work if a colleague thinks they are a shoo-in for employee of the month. Or you could use it with friends when they’re telling you that a political candidate will win an election.

The saying suits situations where you’re trying to tell someone they are overconfident in their expectations.

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