By - CTL
April 10, 2017

By Marcus Honesta.

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but what does that actually mean?

Somewhat bored and looking for inspiration for my next story; under pressure from our sub editor, I typed in the phrase “a picture is worth 1000 words”. I was astonished to find the etymology of this simple phrase. More astonishingly, I found a collection of images that I would like to share with you through this you Tube link.

So where did the expression come from?

We were surprised to learn it has actually been attributed to several sources throughout the years.

“One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words,” appears in a 1913 newspaper advertisement for the Piqua Auto Supply House of Piqua, Ohio, but ironically uses only words, not images, to invite prospective customers to see its products in their store.

We’ve come to accept “a picture is worth a thousand words” as truth in our culture because of the ability of a photo to quickly convey so much meaning with so little, if any, explanation. But in the age of social media and cameras on mobile phones, when photos are shared with more regularity than ever, does the powerful ability of a single image to convey so much feeling, information and complexity get taken for granted?

Perhaps a look back at the earliest known uses of the phrase will remind us of the specialness of the photos we share.

One of the earliest known references to the expression is from a 1911 newspaper article in which newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane, speaking about journalism and publicity, says “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

We is believe that the modern use of the phrase stems from an article in the December 8, 1921 issue advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink, in which Fred R. Barnard referred to “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words” to promote the use of images in advertisements on the sides of streetcars.

A later ad by Barnard appears in the March 10, 1927 issue with the phrase “One Picture Worth Ten Thousand Words,” which he erroneously credited as being a Chinese proverb so people would take it more seriously. As a result, the expression is also sometimes mistakenly attributed to Confucius.

Where it came from is really not important, but it couldn’t be more important today in our electronic picture world.

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