Who Said That?: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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The popular phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words,” meaning a single image can convey a complex idea or story, was introduced in the United states in the early 20th century. It is generally attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, in a December 1921 issue of Printer’s Ink  in his article entitled “One look is worth a thousand words“. Printer’s Ink published another version of the phrase in March 1927, suggesting a Chinese origin:  “Chinese proverb. One picture is worth ten thousand words.”

Earlier variations of the phrase exist in print including:

    • “One timely deed is worth ten thousand words” – The Works of Mr. James Thomson, 1802.
    • “That tear, good girl, is worth, ten thousand words” – The Trust: A Comedy, in Five Acts, 1808.
    • “One fact well understood by observation, and well guided development, is worth a thousand times more than a thousand words” – The American Journal of Education, 1858.
    • “The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book.” Fathers and Sons, Ivan S. Turgenev, 1862
    • Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club, March 1911

Despite evidence to the contrary, its continued attribution as a Chinese proverb is still quite common. (phrases.org.ukUniversity of ReginaWikipediaPSD-p2tuts)