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'An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure'

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'An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure'
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And now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

Sometimes in life, you need to act quickly. Thinking too much about a problem does not always help. It can hold us back.

We have expressions that describe this way of thinking.

“No time like the present.”
“A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
“Just do it!”

But sometimes slower is better.

Many things in life require careful thought and preparation. Sometimes we need to be cautious and take precautions.

A great expression for that kind of behavior is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

This saying comes to us from Benjamin Franklin. In addition to being a writer, Franklin was a printer, political thinker, politician, scientist, inventor and diplomat. He was also one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

So, he was a busy man. But Franklin still found time to write and offer his advice to others. If he were alive today, he could probably make a good living as a life coach.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is one of his most famous sayings. Now, Franklin lived during the 1700s, before the metric system took effect in Europe. The word ounce means something really small – just two one-hundredths of a kilogram to be exact.

So, his expression meant that, when dealing with a problem, spending a small amount of time and effort early on is a good investment. It can save you more trouble in the end.

For example, if a country announces strong measures for containing a virus, we could say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

It is better to take severe precautions than to suffer severe consequences later.

Word historians say that when Franklin first used this expression, he was not talking about disease but rather fire prevention.

During a visit to Boston in 1733, Franklin was impressed with the city’s fire prevention methods. He tried to bring some of these practices to the city of Philadelphia, where he lived.

Supposedly, Franklin sent an unsigned letter to his own newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette. Published on February 4, 1735, his letter -- “Protection of Towns from Fire” -- began with the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Then he wrote about how a city should prepare itself for a fire.

From protecting yourself against sickness to preventing a house fire, this expression can be used in serious situations. It is a fixed expression, meaning we don’t change the wording when we use it. We simply repeat it as is.

Let’s listen to this example:

How is the deal going with your real estate agent? Are you ready to buy your new house?

Just about. I have a few more questions about home insurance. So, I’m meeting with a financial advisor and an insurance agent this week.

They are sure to give you a lot of information. Do you really think it’s necessary?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If I get anything wrong, it will be difficult to fix later on. And it will cost more, too!

Didn’t you lose a lot of money on repairs to your house because it was under-insured?

Um … Good point. Let’s change the subject!

Now, another way to say this expression is “Better safe than sorry.” We use this one for many different situations – serious and not so serious.

Let's listen to this dialogue.

What a great day to be at the park! Thanks for the invite!

Sure thing. The weather is great! So, why did you bring an umbrella?

Well, the weather forecast said it could rain later today.

I heard that too. But look -- there’s not a cloud in the sky!

Oh, no! You cannot be serious!

Quick! Come under my umbrella! See. Better safe than sorry.

Okay, okay! Good point. Now, let’s get out of this rain.

Here it is better to say “better safe than sorry.” Benjamin Franklin’s advice would have sounded a little too serious.

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories!

The next time you want to take care and avoid problems down the road … use the expressions you heard here.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo!

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

moss n. a type of green plant that has very small leaves and no flowers and that grows on rocks, bark, or wet ground

cautious adj. careful about avoiding danger or risk

consequence n. something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions

impressed v. to affect especially forcibly or deeply : gain the admiration or interest of

real estaten. property in buildings and land

insurance n. the amount of money a person regularly pays an insurance company as part of an insurance agreement

dialogue n. a conversation between two or more people

weather forecast n. a statement saying what the weather will be like the next day or for the next few days.