“Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket” – Phrase Origin

The phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is a reasonably simple term to understand. It means you shouldn’t put all your resources into one avenue if it fails, much like you could lose all your eggs if you dropped a basket containing the whole load. However, it is not as simple as it appears.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” first appeared in the 17th-century novel Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. The origin of the phrase before Don Quixote is unclear, and whether Cervantes originated the now popular term remains to be seen.

Here is a complete rundown of the term “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” from its definition and where it came from to the correct way to use it in a sentence.

A photo of Miguel Cervantes.

“Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”: History and Meaning

The phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has a straightforward history and meaning, despite its unknown origin. It survived the translation from Spanish into British English before spreading to other English-speaking countries, making it a fascinating turn of phrase.

First Use of “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”

The first recorded use of the term “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” was in the 1615 novel, Don Quixote, by the Spanish author Miguel Cervantes. 

The book was made available in England in 1620, and the phrase spread throughout the English population as the novel gained popularity. The story was initially printed in Spanish, but the words translated well into English and retained their meaning.

The quote from Don Quixote isn’t exactly “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” The original text says, “‘tis the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket.” 

However, the meaning remained the same, and as the English language changed, the phrase developed alongside it.

The phrase has taken on a life of its own aside from Don Quixote and is rarely attributed to its author, Miguel Cervantes. However, many assume that he coined the phrase because there was no recorded use before the 17th century. It is also unclear if it was a popular Spanish language phrase that inspired Cervantes or if he originated it. 

Sadly, it’s unlikely that we will ever have answers to these questions.

What Does “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket” Mean?

Put simply, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” means not relying on the outcome of a significant risk. An example might be not applying to only one school or betting your entire income on a single horse at the races. 

It’s often the result of making an unwise decision.

This phrase is also used as a warning to the overly confident. You may need to tell someone to “not put all their eggs in one basket” if they’ve only applied for a single job, convinced that they will be appointed. 

It suggests that you should always have a backup plan, no matter how confident you might be in your results. Many dictionaries have defined the phrase. 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ” putting all your eggs into one basket” is “to depend for your success on a single person or plan of action.” Meanwhile, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the phrase “put all one’s eggs in one’s basket” as “to risk all one has on the success or failure of one thing.”

The Etymology of “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is a metaphor. The definition of a metaphor, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.” 

Very rarely would you actually be putting all your eggs in one basket, but it is likened to doing just that.

An idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.” While the term doesn’t explicitly explain its own meaning, it is easily deducible from the phrasing. 

While it is similar to one, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is not a classic case of an idiom. An idiom would be a phrase like “over the moon,” as you wouldn’t be able to understand the meaning of this phrase if taken out of context.

While there is no official term for the phrase, the assumption that our phrase comes from Don Quixote makes it one of the many standard terms that originated in famous literature. 

Here are some common words you may not know developed from the literature.

  • “Cliffhanger”: This word derives from a Thomas Hardy novel where he literally leaves his characters on a cliff’s edge.
  • “There’s a method in my madness”: This one comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  • “Be-all and end-all”: This comes from Shakespeare too, and derives from Macbeth.

How To Use the Phrase “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”

The phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” should be used when someone pins all their hopes on a single thing without a backup plan. 

Here are a few examples of the phrase used in this way. 

  • “I know you have your sights set on Yale, but there are other schools. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
  • “I know that horse is likely to win the race, but it’s not a guarantee. You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
  • “By putting all your eggs in one basket, you’re closing yourself off from opportunities that aren’t in your current life plan.”

The phrase can also be used to indicate that you are weighing up your options despite having a good idea of what you want. 

Here are a few examples of the phrase used in this way.

  • “He seems nice, but so does this other guy; maybe I shouldn’t be putting all my eggs in one basket.”
  • “I know these classes support my career, but what if I put all my eggs in one basket and end up hating it?”
  • “Why should she put all her eggs in one basket? She loves ballet and skateboarding.”

Similar Sayings to “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”

The most common saying that relates to “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is “don’t pin all your hopes on this” or “don’t pin all your hopes on them.” This phrase has the same connotations as “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” but is often used more pessimistically.

For example, if you are applying for your dream job, an optimistic but apprehensive person may say, “What other jobs have you applied for? You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.” 

However, if the person you are talking to doesn’t think you are likely to get the job, they might say, “It’s a great job, but don’t pin your hopes on this.” 

This isn’t a rule of the phrase, but generally, the less confident you are in the outcome, the more likely you are to tell them not to pin their hopes on it rather than not put their eggs in one basket.

Final Thoughts

The phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is a simple literary phrase to understand. It’s one of the simpler English language phrases to understand and use due to its straightforward etymology. 

This is unusual for a phrase that has been borrowed from another language.

We can never be sure whether this phrase originated from Don Quixote or if it was popularised by the novel. However, we owe much gratitude to Cervantes for introducing us to such a helpful phrase that will remain a part of our language for years to come.

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