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What Is The Origin Of The Phrase 'The Early Bird Catches The Worm'?

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The first recorded example of this phrase is in a 1670 book of proverbs by John Ray: "The early bird catcheth the worm."

As it appears in a book of proverbs, it must be much older than the 17th century, although as far as I can find out, Ray's book is the first time it appears in print.

The general meaning of the saying is that if you prepare well and start ahead of your competitors, you will be successful in your undertakings. People sometimes use the expression "an early bird" to describe someone who likes to get up early, though the proverb itself isn't usually meant so literally.

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