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If you had twenty birds in hand, how many would you have in the bush?

Kirk Schwarz is off-line
31 August 2011 17:56
United Kingdom

Quote from TMG
Irrelevant. The proverb means

A) count your blessings

B) tread with caution

C) Weigh up the odds.

The meaning depends on the context.

The context under discussion is that of a questioner asking someone to undertake a simple test of general knowledge and arithmetic. If you know the proverb and can do the arithmetic, you have an answer appropriate to the question as it has been framed and in accordance with the intention of the questioner.  To wilfully ignore the context and ascribe a particular meaning to the word "have" is perverse.

I disagree with your take on the context, the OP asked the question and confirmed the answer as being 0 (the same answer I gave)  so it was more of a riddle than a lesson in arithmetic.

But in both examples I'm still using "have" in a constant sense, to definitely possess and it's still none, if you physically have birds and bushes and you only have the 20 birds in your hand and an indeterminable number of birds in the bush then you can only count those you have because you will never know how many you could have had.

If it's all metaphorical then the birds have never physically existed in the first place and the answer is still none.

Surely to come up with 40 you would have to be taking the question in 2 separate contexts and taking aspects from each that suit you, you would be physically possessing that which is metaphorical, or have I misunderstood, I'm not very good at this kind of thing... 
Can someone tell me how to put text in this box???

Ken Smith is off-line
31 August 2011 18:04
United Kingdom

The key word is not "have" but "worth".

20 birds in the hand are worth 40 in the bush because if instead of your 20 birds in hand, you opted to try to get as many birds out of the bush as possible, on average you would manage to get your hands on twenty. Sometimes you might be lucky and grab 24 or unlucky and only get 16, but on average you'd catch 20 out of the 40 which is why 20 birds in the hand are worth 40 in the bush.

Statistically, it would be virtually impossible to catch all 40 birds if the average number to catch is only 20 so you could never actually "have" 40 birds in the bush. They might be in the bush but you don't have them until you have caught them and they're in hand...

So, if anything, there is a stronger case for the answer to the question being twenty as that's the most probable number to catch, but you can never have 40.

But bottom line is: if you have 20 birds in hand you've already made your choice of "birds in hand" rather than "birds in the bush" so you have chosen to have no birds in the bush, therefore the answer to the question is zero...
David Wilder, Unemployed, 42, ROCK LEGEND.

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