A picture is worth a thousand words

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The proverb a picture is worth a thousand words is probably not as old as you think. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase. It particularly gives advice or shares a universal truth. We will examine the definition of the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words, where the expression came from as well as some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase a picture is worth a thousand words means a picture may convey an idea more quickly and effectively than the written word. Writers of texts that describe concepts involving imagery or abstract thoughts need many words to get their points across. A photograph, artwork, drawing or graphics can often demonstrate an idea with one look, much more quickly than a narrative can explain things. A photograph or artwork may depict emotion, enabling the viewer to perceive the essence of the story without a word being written or spoken. Readers of articles or books must engage in a large amount of effort to mentally process the words in order to understand what the writer is trying to convey. Someone who simply views an image can capture the essence of the meaning of that image without a lot of explaining. The viewer may gain some insight from an image, however, even photographs are open to interpretation. A photographer may crop the picture, leaving out a factor that may be of some importance. He may highlight a point of view that does not tell the whole story. The viewer may not understand the context of what he is looking at, where a literary essay or some other written text may explain things more fully. While the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words has been labeled as a Chinese proverb and attributed to the philosopher, Confucius, in fact it is an American expression. The idea seems to have first been put forth around the turn of the twentieth century by a newspaper editor Tess Flanders, discussing strategies in publishing, editing and news reporting. The term was popularized in the 1920s by Fred R. Barnard, who is often credited with the origin of the proverb. He used the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words to discuss the use of drawn and photographic images to illustrate advertising. It was Barnard who ascribed the proverb to the Chinese, and later, the Japanese. He also used the term a picture is worth ten thousand words, though one thousand is the current quantity used in the expression. The phrase a picture is worth a thousand words is usually referring to a physical illustration, but it is occasionally used as an exhortation to use description in one’s writing, rather than simply reciting facts.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what happens when a photo’s caption is said to be untrue? (Lancaster Farming)

The inspiration for my project, “A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: Using Art to Study Culture and History,” came when I taught 10th-graders in an advanced English class specific to the Cambridge International program. (The Herald Tribune)

“It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words,” U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III wrote above three pictures depicting mice near and, in one case, resting on top of the device. (USA Today)

If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then think of the slide as the thousand words you won’t have time to say — a supportive addition to your words. (Forbes Magazine)