Understanding the Idiom: "blood is thicker than water" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When it comes to relationships, there is an age-old saying that goes, “blood is thicker than water.” This idiom suggests that family bonds are stronger than any other kind of relationship. It implies that one’s loyalty and allegiance should always lie with their family members above all else.

The phrase has been used for centuries in various forms across different cultures and languages. While its origin remains unclear, it has become a commonly used expression in modern-day English language.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “blood is thicker than water”

The idiom “blood is thicker than water” has been used for centuries to express the idea that family ties are stronger than any other kind of relationship. The origins of this saying can be traced back to ancient times, where blood was seen as a symbol of life and vitality. In many cultures, blood was considered sacred and was often used in religious rituals.

As societies evolved, so did the meaning behind this idiom. During medieval times, families were often torn apart by wars and political conflicts. It was during these turbulent times that the phrase “blood is thicker than water” began to take on a more literal meaning – family members would often come together to protect each other from harm.

Over time, this phrase became more widely known and its meaning expanded beyond just physical protection. It came to represent emotional support as well – something that only close family members could provide.

Today, we still use this idiom to express the idea that family relationships are some of the strongest bonds we can have in our lives. While it may not always be true in every situation, it remains a powerful reminder of the importance of our connections with those closest to us.

To better understand how this phrase has evolved over time, let’s take a look at some historical examples:

Historical Examples

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear (1606), one character says: “Thou art my flesh and blood.” This line emphasizes the strong familial bond between two characters.

In 1670, John Ray wrote: “Blood is thicker than water; or kin more than strangers.” This quote highlights how important family relationships were even hundreds of years ago.

Year Event Description
1855 The Lancet Medical Journal A medical journal article used the phrase “blood is thicker than water” to describe how family members were more likely to have compatible blood types for transfusions.
1942 World War II The phrase was often used by soldiers during World War II to express their loyalty and devotion to their fellow soldiers, who they considered as brothers in arms.
1980s-present day Songs and Literature The idiom has been referenced in countless songs, books, and movies over the years. It remains a popular way of expressing the idea that family relationships are some of the strongest bonds we can have in our lives.

As you can see from these examples, the meaning behind “blood is thicker than water” has evolved over time. However, its core message – that family ties are incredibly important – remains just as relevant today as it did centuries ago.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “blood is thicker than water”

When it comes to relationships, there’s an old saying that goes “blood is thicker than water”. This idiom suggests that family ties are stronger than any other type of bond. While this phrase has a clear meaning, its usage can vary depending on the context.

In some cases, people use this idiom to emphasize the importance of family loyalty. For example, if someone is facing a difficult situation and their family members come to their aid, they might say “I’m so grateful for my family – blood is definitely thicker than water”. In this case, the phrase implies that familial support is more meaningful than help from friends or acquaintances.

However, in other situations, people might use this idiom ironically or sarcastically. For instance, if someone’s relatives are causing them stress or drama, they might say something like “Well I guess blood really IS thicker than water – even when your own flesh and blood drives you crazy!” Here, the phrase takes on a different meaning – one that suggests that sometimes family ties can be burdensome rather than supportive.

It’s worth noting that while “blood is thicker than water” may be a common expression in English-speaking cultures (and beyond), there are variations of this idea in other languages as well. For example:

– In Spanish: La sangre llama (“Blood calls out”)

– In German: Blut ist dicker als Wasser (“Blood is thicker than water”)

– In Italian: Il sangue è più denso dell’acqua (“Blood is denser/thicker/heavier/more concentrated than water”)

Regardless of how it’s used or where it originates from, the idiom “blood is thicker than water” remains a powerful reminder of the enduring nature of familial bonds.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “blood is thicker than water”


There are several idiomatic expressions that can be used in place of “blood is thicker than water” to convey the same idea. One such phrase is “family comes first”, which emphasizes the importance of familial relationships over other connections. Another option is “kinship ties bind stronger”, which highlights the strength of bonds between family members.


The opposite sentiment of “blood is thicker than water” can be expressed through phrases like “friends are chosen family”, which suggests that close friendships can be just as meaningful as biological relationships. Similarly, “the ties that bind us are not always blood” emphasizes that emotional connections can exist outside of familial relations.

Cultural Insights:

The idiom “blood is thicker than water” has been traced back to medieval times and was originally used to refer to literal bloodshed on a battlefield being more significant than familial ties. Over time, it evolved into its modern meaning – emphasizing the importance of family loyalty above all else. However, some cultures prioritize non-familial relationships over those with relatives; for example, in collectivist societies like Japan or China where group harmony and social cohesion take precedence over individualism.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “blood is thicker than water”

When it comes to family, we often use the idiom “blood is thicker than water” to describe how strong and important our family bonds are. This phrase means that familial relationships are more significant and valuable than any other type of relationship. To better understand this idiom, here are some practical exercises you can do:

1. Reflect on your own experiences

Think about a time when you had to choose between helping a family member or a friend. How did you feel? What did you decide? Reflecting on your personal experiences can help you understand why blood is considered thicker than water.

2. Discuss with others

Talk to your friends or family members about their understanding of this idiom. Do they agree with it? Why or why not? Engaging in discussions with others can broaden your perspective and deepen your understanding.

3. Read literature

There are many books and articles that explore the theme of familial bonds and loyalty. Reading such literature can give you insights into different perspectives on this topic.

4. Watch movies or TV shows

Similarly, watching movies or TV shows that depict strong family relationships can also help you understand the significance of blood ties.

By doing these exercises, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of familial relationships and why we say “blood is thicker than water.”

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “blood is thicker than water”

When using idioms, it’s important to understand their meaning and usage in context. The idiom “blood is thicker than water” is often used to describe the strong bond between family members. However, there are common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

One mistake is assuming that family always comes first no matter what. While it’s true that family can be a great source of support and love, it doesn’t mean that they’re always right or have your best interests at heart. Blindly following family without questioning their motives or actions can lead to negative consequences.

Another mistake is excluding non-family members from important events or decisions because of the belief that blood relations are more important. This can lead to hurt feelings and strained relationships with friends or partners who may feel left out or undervalued.

It’s also important to remember that not all families are created equal. Some people may come from dysfunctional families where abuse or neglect was present, making the idea of “blood being thicker than water” difficult to accept.


  • Gregory Y. Titelman, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, 1996, >ISBN, p. 32.
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