Saturday, December 18, 2021

"For want of a nail the kingdom was lost"

Click to see Vol. I, Issue 8 of the newsletter in which this article first appeared.

Proverb: "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost"

  • This is actually a summation of a longer "poem":
"For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
"For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
"For want of a horse the rider was lost.
"For want of a rider the battle was lost.
"For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
"And all for the want of a nail."

Meaning: Seemingly-small events--or even mistakes--can have big consequences.

  • "Want" here means "lack" or "absence"; that is, the named thing (nail, shoe, horse, etc.) is missing.
  • This is something like the modern idea known as the "Butterfly Effect," where the small air motion made when a butterfly flaps its wing contributes to the formation of a hurricane.

Dialogue: Josh looks upset; Sarah asks why.

Sarah: Hey, Josh. What's wrong?
Josh: Well, I was supposed to have a big meeting with my adviser today, to file my graduation papers. I've missed the meeting a couple of times before, and today was the last chance before the deadline. But I missed the appointment!
Sarah: How did that happen?
Josh: Well, to get here on time, I have to catch a 7:40 bus.
Sarah: Yeah...
Josh: My sister was supposed to wake me up, and she didn't.
Sarah: Why not?
Josh: Because she was so tired when she went to bed last night that she forgot to set her alarm.
Sarah: Why was she so tired?
Josh: She was up late working on a big project for school.
Sarah: Why didn't she do it earlier in the evening?
Josh: Because she had to fix dinner. My mom couldn't do that because she got home too late.
Sarah: OK, why was your mom so late?
Josh: Because she had a flat tire. She ran over a nail. And because of that, I might not graduate on time, and I might not get the college of my choice, and I might be a total failure in life!
Sarah: And all because of a nail? Hmmm... That reminds me of a poem...


  1. In which situation would you use the proverb, "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost"? The correct answer is in the first comment below.
    A. Michelle forgot to get a flu shot, but fortunately she never caught the flu from anyone.
    B. Bob couldn't find his keys; was late to work; lost his job; and so on; and now he's homeless.
    C. Terry took the wrong exit and ended up in a strange neighborhood, but finally returned to the freeway and reached his destination.

1 comment: