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Origin of ‘A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words’

A saying that is fairly commonly heard is ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. Where the phrase actually came from is a bit murky, though.

Some people have claimed that this saying has an Asian origin. However, there isn’t any evidence that anything similar was said in Asia. The actual phrase is American, but how it came about is the part that is hazy.

The meaning is clear enough and it alludes to a fact. That is that most people are visually oriented. It is for this reason that the saying was almost certainly first used in regard to advertising. In advertising, the meaning is even more appropriate than the way it is commonly used today.

Indeed, studies at UC Berkeley and elsewhere have shown that a carefully chosen image is much more likely to get more interest in a product than slogans or descriptions of the product. That is part of the reasoning behind requirements for including images in articles or blogs.

Although not directly linked to the saying, many studies have shown that people are at least 10 times more likely to read an article or post that has one or more images than they are to read articles that lack images. The more compelling the image, the truer this is, provided that the picture is appropriate to the article.

Indeed, the algorithm or program used by Google and other search engines that relate to where an article is placed in search results show the importance of an image. Those algorithms are designed to identify when there are images in articles and on web pages, though it doesn’t actually ‘see’ what those images are. Thus, it appears true that a picture is worth a thousand words, even to Google.

There are also sayings that are similar. These have been used since the early 1800s. For example, “A timely deed is worth ten thousand words.” While the statement can be taken as a truism, the meaning is different than ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

All that is known for sure is that the saying originated in America and that it has been in use since at least the early 1900s. Beyond that, the only thing that is quite likely is that the saying was first used in relation to the use of images in advertising.

Even if this is the origin, the truth of the saying should be obvious. The pictures used in this article were taken in 2016, of a favorite fishing and camping spot. If you or I tried to describe the scene in words, it is likely that it would be hard to do with even a thousand words. I would have difficulty describing the scene, though I took the pictures.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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