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Blood is thicker than water

In modern society, the proverb "blood is thicker than water" is used to imply that family ties are always more important than the ties you make among friends. A alternative interpretation of the phrase is stated as "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb" which means bonds made between you and the friends you choose are stronger than the family you happened by chance to be born into.


The equivalent proverb in German (originally: Blut ist dicker als Wasser), first appeared in the medieval German beast epic Reinhart Fuchs (c. 1180; English: Reynard the Fox) by Heinrich der Glîchezære, whose words in English read, "Kin-blood is not spoilt by water."

In 1412, the English priest John Lydgate observed in Troy Book, "For naturally blood will be of kind / Drawn-to blood, where he may it find."

By 1670, the modern version was included in John Ray's collected Proverbs,[1] and later appeared in Sir Walter Scott's novel Guy Mannering (1815): "Weel — Blud's thicker than water — she's welcome to the cheeses."[2] and in English reformer Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's School Days (1857).

The phrase was first attested in the United States in Journal of Athabasca Department (1821)."[3]

On June 25, 1859, U.S. Navy Commodore Josiah Tattnall, in command of the American Squadron in Far Eastern waters, made this adage a part of American history when explaining why he had given aid to the British squadron in an attack on Taku Forts at the mouth of the Pei Ho River, thereby infringing strict American neutrality.[citation needed]

In popular culture

More recently, Aldous Huxley's Ninth Philosopher's Song (1920) approached the proverb differently, stating, "Blood, as all men know, than water's thicker / But water's wider, thank the Lord, than blood."[4]

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Other interpretations

H.C. Trumbull writes:

We, in the West, are accustomed to say that "blood is thicker than water" ; but the Arabs have the idea that blood is thicker than milk, than a mother's milk. With them, any two children nourished at the same breast are called " milk-brothers," or "sucking brothers"; and the tie between such is very strong. [..] But the Arabs hold that brothers in the covenant of blood are closer than brothers at a common breast; that those who have tasted each other's blood are in a surer covenant than those who have tasted the same milk together ; that "blood-lickers," as the blood-brothers are sometimes called, are more truly one than "milk-brothers," or "sucking brothers"; that, indeed, blood is thicker than milk, as well as thicker than water. [13]

Authors such as Albert Jack[14] and R. Richard Pustelniak[15] propose that the word "blood" in the modern Western proverb must originally have also referred to such a blood covenant, and suggest that "water" refers to "water of the womb". The meaning of the proverb then inverts to "chosen friends are more important than family".

See also


  1. ^ Hendrickson, Robert (1987). The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. New York: Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8160-1012-7. 
  2. ^ Rogers, James T. (1985). The Dictionary of Clichés. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-33814-3. 
  3. ^ Titelman, Gregory Y. (1996). Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-44554-8. 
  4. ^ Flexner, Stuart & Doris (1993). Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New. New York: Avon Books. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-380-76238-5. 
  5. ^, retrieved 2014-02-25
  6. ^, retrieved 2014-02-25
  7. ^ Hoffman, Wynette A. (2002), Blood Is Thicker Than Water, Alien Perspective, ISBN 978-0972109802 
  8. ^, retrieved 2014-02-25
  9. ^, retrieved 2014-02-25
  10. ^, retrieved 2014-02-25
  11. ^, retrieved 2014-02-25
  12. ^
  13. ^ Trumbull, H. Clay (1893), The Blood Covenant - A Primitive Rite And Its Bearings On Scripture (2nd ed.), Philadelphia: John D. Wattles, p. 10 ff. 
  14. ^ Jack, Albert (2005), Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep: The Origins of Even More Phrases We Use Every Day, Penguin Books Ltd (UK), ISBN 978-0140515732 
  15. ^ Pustelniak, R. Richard (1994), "II. Terms", "How Shall I Know?" - The Blood Covenant, retrieved 2014-02-22 

External links