What is the origin of the saying: “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”?

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It was presented to me in a faux German accent, so I’d imagine that it’s from that part of the World. Anybody know its true origins?

I see it listed as a German, Dutch, Yiddish, Chinese, Japanese, Pennsylvanian German, Amish, Swedish and Danish proverb as well as a quote by Norma Victor on the internet, but see no published sources for their information.

The only published source of the proverb I’ve found is in `The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs’ by Harold V. Cordry (1997), which has this version:

We get too soon old, and too late smart.
– American proverb

I’m leaning towards a German source of the proverb, but who knows.

When I was a kid, we lived next door to an elderly German couple. He was a sign painter and in a scroll, with gothic lettering, above our stove in the kitchen he had written this proverb “Too soon we grow old, and too late smart.” This was in the 1950s and it was definitely a German proverb, although it seems to be widespread.

Years ago I saw the saying “Too soon old and too late schmart” painted on a piece of Pennsylvania Dutch pottery.

“Too Soon Old, Too Late Schmart” is all over PA Dutch country souvenirs.

Mark Twain

Answer 6

In standard German, it would be, “Zu bald alt, zu spaet gescheit”.Use of “smart” would be the PA Dutch/ Amish tendency to mix Englisch with the German. My parents who are German, but not PA Deitsch, would shorten “gescheit” by dropping the first e.They never said this sentence, but we lived in Lancaster Co. PA, so heard it.

Answer 7

Grew up in a German Lutheran family in southcentral PA and it was always attributed to the PA Deutch.

My Swedish Grandmother had a sign written in native Swedish hanging in her kitchen. I’d love to find one now and hang it in my own kitchen!

Auf Deutsch, zu bald alte, zu spate schmartz (a rough guess–)

What our team says

What is the origin of the saying: “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”?

We’ve all heard it before – never say anything that you don’t have the courage to stand behind. And while that might sound like common sense, there are times when we hold back from voicing our opinions or sharing information because we think it might be premature or inaccurate. But is that always the right decision? In this article, we’re going to explore the origins of the saying “too soon old, too late smart” and see if there is any truth to it. By looking at historical examples and examining the way people thought about timeliness in different eras, we hope to learn whether or not this proverb is really something to be afraid of.

What is the origin of the saying “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”?

The saying “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” is derived from the Bible. In Proverbs, chapter 3, verse 5, it states: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” This proverb advises people to rely on God for guidance and protection. The proverb is often used to warn people not to get too attached to their own ideas and opinions, as they may become too old or too smart for the new situation at hand.

Historical Context

The saying “too soon old, too late smart” has been around for centuries. The earliest recorded version of the saying is from the 1855 book A Collection of Familiar Quotations by Samuel Johnson.

The saying likely originated in the 1600s and was used to describe people who were too old to learn new things, but were still too young to know what was good for them. The saying reflected society’s belief that wisdom only came with age.

Over time, the phrase has been adapted to other contexts. For example, the phrase “too soon famous, too late rich” is often used to describe celebrities who become famous too early in their careers and don’t have enough money to sustain their fame.


The saying “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” is often used to advise people not to do something until they are fully prepared for the consequences. The proverb is derived from the ancient Greek story of Arion and Proteus. Proteus was a shape-shifting god who could change his appearance at will. Arion attempted to steal some consecrated water from Apollo’s temple, but when he was caught by Proteus, the god asked for one hour to think about what punishment he should give him. During that hour, Arion changed into all sorts of different beasts in order to understand how best to evade capture again. In the end, he learned that it wasn’t necessary for him to overpower or outsmart his pursuers – he just needed time to plan ahead and be smart about it.

Answer Prime

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