Blood is thicker than water

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Blood is thicker than water is a medieval proverb in English that means that familial bonds will always be stronger than bonds of friendship or love. The oldest record of this saying can be traced back in the 12th century in German. [1]


The equivalent proverb in German (originally: Blut ist dicker als Wasser), first appeared in a different form in the medieval German beast epic Reinhart Fuchs (c. 1180; English: Reynard the Fox) by Heinrich der Glîchezære. The 13th-century Heidelberg manuscript reads in part, "ouch hoer ich sagen, das sippe blůt von wazzere niht verdirbet" (lines 265-266). In English it reads, "I also hear it said, kin-blood is not spoiled by water." which may in part refer to distance not changing familial ties or duties, due to the high seas being tamed.

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,[2] and later appeared in Scottish author John Moore's Zeluco (1789) "So you see there is little danger of my forgetting them, and far less blood relations; for surely blood is thicker than water."[3], Sir Walter Scott's novel Guy Mannering (1815): "Weel — Blud's [sic] thicker than water — she's welcome to the cheeses."[4] and in English reformer Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's School Days (1857).

The phrase was first attested in the United States in the Journal of Athabasca Department (1821)."[5] On June 25, 1859, U.S. Navy Commodore Josiah Tattnall, in command of the U.S. Squadron in Far Eastern waters, made this adage a part of U.S. 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 abandoning the strict American policy of neutrality that had been adopted in the Second Opium War after the Battle of the Barrier Forts.[6]

Other interpretations[edit]

The use of the word "blood" to refer to kin or familial relations has roots dating back to Greek and Roman traditions.[7] This usage of the term was seen in the English-speaking world from the late 1300s.

Although not specifically related to the expression, H.C. Trumbull notes an interesting comparison of blood and milk in the Arab world:

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.[8]

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."[9]

Two modern commentators, authors Albert Jack[10] and R. Richard Pustelniak,[11] claim the original meaning of the expression was that the ties between people who have made a blood covenant (or have shed blood together in battle) were stronger than ties formed by "the water of the womb", thus "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blood is thicker than water meaning ". Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Moore, John (1789). Zeluco (2nd ed.). A. Strahan; T. Cadell. pp. 217. Retrieved 11 March 2019. blood is thicker than water.
  4. ^ Rogers, James T. (1985). The Dictionary of Clichés. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-33814-3.
  5. ^ Titelman, Gregory Y. (1996). Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-44554-8.
  6. ^ Jones, Charles Colcock (1878). The Life and Services of Commodore Josiah Tattnall. Morning News Steam Printing House. p. 87.
  7. ^ "Blood: Online Etymological Dictionary"
  8. ^ Trumbull, H. Clay (1893), The Blood Covenant - A Primitive Rite And Its Bearings On Scripture (2nd ed.), Philadelphia: John D. Wattles, p. 10 ff.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Pustelniak, R. Richard (1994), "II. Terms", "How Shall I Know?" - The Blood Covenant, retrieved 2014-02-22