once bitten, twice shy

once bitten, twice shy

Meaning | Synonyms

  • a bad experience cause to believe caution
  • said when you are frightened to do something again because you had the unfriendly experience of doing so for the first time
  • the first unpleasant experience of doing something – makes it scary and more difficult for further tries

Example Sentences

  1. I will never work with Peter again. He expects everyone to do the work on his behalf, once bitten twice shy.
  2. We are careful about renting an apartment from that company. The previous one was terrible. Once bitten twice shy.
  3. I am really worried about of using elevator again since I was stuck into it for hours – once bitten, twice shy.
  4. Since my little daughter fell from the swing, she doesn’t like swinging it anymore. Truly said, once bitten, twice shy.

Origin

The exact origin of the phrase is not known. It is easy to surmise that it is related to the bite of a dog. If it has bitten you once you will approach with caution. It is commonly believed that the first use of the phrase can be found in a translation of Aesop’s fables. It was translated by William Caxton in 1484.

He that hath ben ones begyled by somme other ought to kepe hym wel fro(m) the same.

The fable revolves around a wolf who threatens to eat a dog. The dog convinces him that he is very skinny and needs to eat in order to get fat enough to be a good meal. When the wolf returns the dog is out of reach. He is upset with the dog and the dog says that he will never lay that close to the gate again.

The current phrase presumably evolved from that one and first appeared in 1894.

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1 Comment

AuthorPaul writes on 10th October 2018

I believe a subtlety in the meaning of this idiom may have been overlooked. If the idiom were “Once bitten, once shy” then it would mean what is described here i.e. that one is cautious after a bad experience. But the implication of the word “twice” is that one tends to be thus cautious for longer than necessary (i.e. even after multiple subsequent positive experiences). For example: The first time I tried to touch a dog, it bit me, so naturally I was cautious the second time I met one. But I still felt cautious after meeting several friendly dogs. Why? Once bitten, twice shy. The implication is of being more risk-averse than is necessary, rather than just risk-averse generally.

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