What does the idiom "Once bitten, twice shy" mean?

The phrase Once bitten, twice shy is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of Once bitten, twice shy.

Meaning of "Once bitten, twice shy"


The idiom 'once bitten, twice shy' is used to express a cautionary sentiment. It is used to express wariness or fear about something that has had a negative effect on a person in the past, and so they will be more guarded or wary when dealing with something similar in the future.


The phrase 'once bitten, twice shy' has been used in its current form since the late 1800s and is believed to have its origins in an ancient proverb. The proverb has been recorded as early as 1530, and states "once burnt, twice shy." It is likely that this phrase was used in reference to a person being burned by fire as a warning to avoid smoke and flames in the future.


The 'once bitten, twice shy' idiom is generally used to describe a person who has experienced something negative, and is now cautious about similar experiences in the future. It can be used both literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, it could be used to describe someone who had been bitten by a dog and is now fearful of dogs in general. In a figurative sense, it could be used to describe someone who has been in a bad relationship before and is now wary of relationships in general.

Example Sentences

  • After being cheated on by her last boyfriend, Sarah was very hesitant to enter into a new relationship. She was definitely once bitten, twice shy.
  • I can't believe he's already trying again. He's not a very bright one, is he? Once bitten, twice shy, I guess.
  • I'm not going near the lake again; I was bitten by a snake last time and I'm not taking any chances anymore. Once bitten, twice shy.

The meanings of the words in the "Once bitten, twice shy" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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