Did someone tell you that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’? What does this mean, and where does the phrase come from?
‘The grass is always greener on the other side’ is a proverb that refers to the fact that other people’s circumstances often seem better than your own, but in reality, this often isn’t the case.
‘The grass is always greener on the other side’ is a proverb that means that it often looks like other people’s circumstances are more desirable than your own, but they often aren’t as good as they seem in reality.
There are a number of alternative forms of this idiom, including:
The general idea is that people will commonly think that they could be happier if their circumstances were different. The implication of the phrase is that those other circumstances simply seem better from the outside but aren’t really any better.
The general concept behind the proverb ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ can be traced back to the poetry of Ovid, a Roman poet that lived between 43 BC and 17/18 AD.
In one of his works called “Art of Love,” the phrase "Fertilior seges est alenis semper in agris" can be found, which translates to:
"The harvest is always more fruitful in another man's fields."
Another version of the same notion was cited by Erasmus of Rotterdam and translated into English in 1545 by Richard Taverner:
“The corne in an other mans ground semeth euer more fertyll and plentifull then doth oure own.”
(The corn in another man’s ground seems ever more fertile and plentiful than our own does.)
In terms of the precise wording of this phrase, it is thought that it was popular as early as the beginning of the 20th century. In 1924, there was a song recorded by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting titled “The Grass Is Always Greener in the Other Fellows Yard.”
The proverb also appeared in the US newspaper The Kansas Farmer in 1917:
“Some people are never satisfied anywhere. The grass always looks a little greener on the other side of the fence.”
That being said, ‘green grass’ has been used as a metaphor for new experiences for some time before the appearance of the proverb in The Kansas Farmer, with an excerpt from a June 1853 The New York Times article stating:
“It bewitched your correspondent with a desire to see greener grass and set foot on fresher fields.”
There is some speculation that the proverb comes from people observing cattle grazing through the fence and eating grass from the adjacent field or their habit of escaping through broken fence lines to another pasture in search of grass to eat.
When we use the Google Books Ngram Viewer to get a better sense of the usage of this proverb over time, we see that ‘the grass is always greener’ first appears in texts around 1916 and becomes more commonly used over the course of the 20th century until the present day.
There are actually very similar proverbs in other languages, such as Italian, French, and Japanese.
Though the specific origin of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ isn’t known, the notion makes sense when you think about human history and culture. It seems only natural that people would see their neighbor’s plots of land and possessions and covet them. This proverb is a representation of the fact that the expectation that other people’s circumstances are better than our own is often false.
How would you use ‘the grass is always greener on’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:
Looking for more English proverbs, expressions, and phrases to learn? Head over to our idioms blog for a ton more definitions, origins, and examples of fun and interesting phrases!
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