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The meaning and origin of the expression: Make hay while the sun shines

Make hay while the sun shines

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Make hay while the sun shines'?

Make the most of one's opportunities while you have the chance.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Make hay while the sun shines'?

Make hay while the sun shinesThis proverb is first recorded in John Heywood's A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.

A similar notion is expressed in The Bible, in Proverbs 10:5:

He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.

English translations of The Bible don't use the expression 'make hay while the sun shines' and they didn't appear until after 1546 anyway. If the person who coined the proverb in English was copying an idea from earlier versions of The Bible we can't be sure of. What we can say is that, as far as English is concerned, the phrase originated in Tudor England.

Of course, medieval farmers would be as well aware of the wisdom of not leaving it too late to gather one's hay. Modern machinery and weather forecasting make haymaking reasonably quick and stress-free. Tudor farmers would have taken several days to cut, dry and gather their hay and would have had only folk rhymes like 'red sky at night' to guide them. Forecasting the weather two or three says in advance wouldn't have been possible, so all the more reason for them to 'make hay while the sun shines'.

The proverb, like all proverbs, was extended to life in general and it quickly became a cliche. As early as 1673 it was cited in a figurative, that is, non-farming, context, in Richard Head's glossary of the language of theives and beggars The Canting Academy:

She ... was resolv'd ... to make Hay whilest the Sun shin'd.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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