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Once bitten, twice shy

  • Once bitten, twice shy is an interesting idiom that first appeared in the 1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the phrase once bitten, twice shy, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    Once bitten, twice shy describes an incident that someone does not want to repeat. If someone has a bad experience in which he is injured, humiliated or frightened in some manner, he does not wish to repeat the experience. If a person or animal has inflicted the harm, then one does not wish to give that person or animal a chance to inflict harm, again. The word twice in this instance means on two occasions. Of course, the phrase once bitten, twice shy may refer to a literal bite, but it is most often used figuratively. The term once bitten twice shy is ascribed to Aesop, though the phrase is not linked with his work until much, much later. The phrase is the moral to the story of The Dog and the Wolf. In the tale, a dog talks a wolf out of eating him until he has fattened up. Of course, this gives the dog a chance to get away. When the wolf calls to him later, demanding that the dog allow himself to be eaten, the dog refuses. The moral is: once bitten, twice shy. When the story was first translated into English by William Caxton in the 1400s, the moral to this story was rendered as: “He that hath ben ones begyled by somme other ought to kepe hym wel fro(m) the same.” Many proverbs and idioms originated with Aesop, including honesty is the best policy, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, and look before you leap. The oldest known use of the phrase once bitten, twice shy occurred in the 1850s in the novel Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour by Robert Smith Surtees.

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    Examples

    For those who didn’t do the reading, the Tomb Raider Trap is when a poorly-received but well-hyped movie becomes a big hit but the superior sequel gets ignored by once-bitten-twice-shy audiences. (Forbes)

    It was a case of once bitten, twice shy when they toppled reigning champions Thurles two weeks ago. (The Independent)

    The proverb “once bitten, twice shy” may apply to cosmetics entrepreneur Datuk Aliff Syukri Kamarzaman as his last single Bobo Di Mana received heavy backlash. (The New Straits Times)

    To be fair, there’s something about the cast’s eager-beaver portrayals that brings out the quintet’s toothsome appeal as they breathe vibrant life into their broken, “once bitten, twice shy” characters. (The Inquirer)

     


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