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Give a Man a Fish...

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Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This etymology and life advice has been popular for a long time in fiction and media, according to Know Your Phrase, it originated in some form from an Anne Ritchie novel: Mrs. Dymond, published in 1885. It's mostly used on those that need motivation, have become lost on their chosen path, or someone who really needs to learn how to fish. The core message is mostly the same however, in that learning a skill is more beneficial to you long term than it is to never have learned it and let someone else do it for you.

This trope is a classic Stock Aesop and Stock Phrase and has been parodied or twisted in works at least as often as it's used straight.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Superman: In the story "Peace on Earth", Superman tries to end world hunger by delivering food to impoverished places, but is met with resistance everywhere he goes and the food is eventually poisoned by a government that doesn't want his interference. He then remembers his adoptive father Jonathan Kent teaching him this quote. At the end, he is shown as Clark Kent teaching children how to farm.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will buy a silly hat. And if you talk to hungry people about fishing, you are a consultant."

  • One dark joke:
    "Light a fire for a man, and he will be warm for one night. Light a Man on Fire, and he will be warm for the rest of his life.
  • Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll sit in your boat and drink all your beer.
  • A joke/variation accredited to wives both happy and annoyed:
    "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you get him out of the house on the weekend."
  • Michael Plait is a proponent of the "teach a man to fish" paradigm and offered this gem at TAM 8:
    "Teach a man to reason and he'll think for a lifetime."

  • In the Discworld novel Jingo: "Give a man a fire and he's warm for the day. But set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life."
  • Deconstructed in Born A Crime. Trevor says that while it is a good thing to teach someone to fish for themselves, the knowledge ultimately becomes useless when they don't have the proper materials to utilize it properly. It is best said in this quote: "People love to say, 'Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime.' What they don't say is, 'And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.'"

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parks and Recreation:
    • Ron Swanson: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don't teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He's a grown man. Fishing's not that hard."
    • The Leader of the "Kaboom" playground-building team: "Take a man to Kabooming, and he Kabooms. Teach a man to Kaboom, and KABOOM KABOOM KABOOM!!"
  • Quoted by Archer in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Mauraders", when deciding the best way to protect a colony of miners from being bullied regularly by a group of Klingons is to teach them how to stand up for themselves.
  • Arrested Development: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish..." "... and he'll want to use your yacht, and I don't want this thing smelling like fish."
  • The Booze Traveler on learning how to make Austrian pastries: "You know what they say — feed a man a pastry, he'll eat for a day... but teach him how to bake, and he's... gonna gain weight."
  • Young Hercules: The episode "Cold Feet" had Jason do this for a farming community he visited. They're regularly under threat from a group of bandits; past attempts to fight back have gone poorly, and the local government ignores their requests for help. There are too many bandits for Jason to fight alone, but he feels he's gotta do something. He offers to teach volunteers fighting moves he learned at Cheiron's academy, saying they have to do this for themselves and their loved ones. Many rally around him, but Pelia is critical. She points out Jason's just passing through and doesn't have to live with the consequences if things go wrong. Fortunately, things do work out.
  • The aptly-named Odd Squad episode "Teach a Man to Ice Fish", while not having the saying quoted by anyone, revolves around the Mobile Unit attempting to boost the confidence of Arctic Mr. O and his precinct's agents, who don't believe they can solve a case regarding a villainess named Confetti Betty attacking people on their own and plan on relying on the Mobile Unit whenever they need a case solved. Opal and Omar in particular, who are assisting Arctic Mr. O, decide to let him take the lead in solving the case and fall back into a supportive role, but he consistently berates himself and even outright gives up at the climax. However, after watching a video clue Confetti Betty leaves for him and the agents on his mega-computer, he figures out the villainess's pattern and ends up being the one defeating her when the Mobile Unit cannot, which instills confidence in him and the other agents.
  • Gilmore Girls: When Luke's diner is closed for construction, Kirk sets up a pop-up diner in the park across the street. Considering Kirk is the reason Luke's is closed (he got blinded demonstrating Star's Hollow's first ever red light camera and drove into it), Luke is understandably upset. Kirk "apologizes" in the form of giving Luke a job application rather than any actual financial compensation, because he's from the "teach a man to fish" school.

    Video Games 
  • Minecraft:
    • Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll stand at the top of a cliff, whisk pigs off the ground, and snipe them out of the air.
    • On the subject of how incredibly addictive Minecraft can be:
      "I have heard [Gabriel] suggest that the game is crack, but it's more like all of the ingredients and equipment that you need to make crack, which I'd say is worse."
  • As said by Minsc in Baldur's Gate, after giving money to a beggar:
    "You should have given him a sword! Give a man a fish and he feeds himself for a day. Give a man a sword, and he can chow down on the meaty marrow of evil!"
  • Parodied with the Pandaren in World of Warcraft
    "Teach a man to fish, and he is fed for a day. Uh, no, uh...he is fed. I...I messed it up, but we just make this stuff up anyway."
  • Parodied in Fable II in a loading screen. Teach a man to fish, and he'll stink up the whole town.
  • Parodied with one of the "pearls of wisdom" dispensed by Beatrix Russell in Fallout: New Vegas:
    "Feed a man for free. He'll be back asking for more. Feed a man a bullet. You won't hear from him again."
  • In the second tutorial mission of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, Qui-Gon Jinn offers this altered-for-the-setting variant:
    "Give a Wookiee bantha meat, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a Wookiee to hunt bantha, and he'll eat for a lifetime."

    Web Original 
  • There's an unusual twist on one floating around the internet: Give a fish a fish, and you introduce the concept of slavery to an entire species. Teach a fish to fish, and you make him a mythical, nightmarish murderer feared by his own kind.
  • There's another version, source also unknown, although somewhat well-spread across the internet, that goes like this: "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will dragnet the bottom of the ocean floor, dump 90% of what he catches as unmarketable, pollute the skies with greasy black smoke from his fish canning factories, wipe out the various species of fish that he has been exploiting, devastate the ecosystem, process his dead into Human Resources, fall into a deadly downward spiral of food-riots and warfare, blow up the planet, and be succeeded on the top of the food-chain by cockroaches."
  • Quoth Jeremy Keith, on his book Bulletproof Ajax: "Give someone a fish and they'll think you're a bit of weirdo; teach someone how to fish and they'll wonder what fishing has got to do with web design."

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in DM of the Rings: Give a player a fish, and he'll probably try to sell it to an NPC fisherman. Teach a player to fish, and next week he'll show up with the book, The Complete Adventuring Fisherman. He'll start hunting for some monstrous leviathan to catch and enslave, and he'll be dual-wielding two fishing poles.
  • From This El Goonish Shive B-Side Comics strip: "Couldn't you just give me a fish?"
  • This is invoked in Kevin & Kell when tigress attorney Mei-Li Lee was warding off a wolf who was offended by Kevin's lack of fear.
    Mei Li: Give a lawyer a meal and she eats for five minutes. Give her a client and she bills hourly for years.
  • Lola and Mr. Wrinkles: Namedropped in the "Randall the bone thief" story arc. Lola and Mr. Wrinkles express doubt whether Brutus can get Hugo to stand up to Randal. The cat suggests Brutus could take care of the problem himself. In answer, Brutus uses the expression...and absolutely confuses Lola.
  • Mountain Time: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Give a man some worms and you feed the fish, too.
  • The Order of the Stick: The title of that day's strip is, "Technically, the 'Fish' Version is a Subset of This One."
    Belkar: Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime!
  • Schlock Mercenary: Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.
    Maxim 21: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Take his fish away and tell him he's lucky just to be alive, and he'll figure out how to catch another one for you to take tomorrow.
  • The alt-text of this xkcd says "Give a man a fish, or he will destroy the only remaining vial of antidote."
  • Parodied in this comic strip. "Teach a fish to man..."

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Jackie Kashian gave us the salesman's version: "Give a man a fish, and that man knows where to come for fish. Teach a man to fish, and you've just destroyed your market base. What the hell is wrong with you?"
  • UDM President Bantu Holomisa tried to use this quote on live TV. Oh, how he tried.