Once In A Blue Moon

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The English language is rich with proverbs that encapsulate profound wisdom in just a few words. One such saying is “Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.” This proverb, with its simple yet impactful message, highlights the value of leadership and autonomy over subservience to a greater power. In this article, we will explore the meaning of this proverb, delve into its possible origins, and provide examples of how it can be used in conversations to convey important life lessons.

Understanding the Proverb

“Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion” is a metaphorical expression that encourages individuals to choose positions of leadership and authority, even if they are relatively small or less prestigious, over being a subordinate or follower in a more prominent and powerful group. In essence, it promotes the idea of autonomy, independence, and self-determination over submission and dependence.

This proverb suggests that it’s often better to be a leader or decision-maker in a modest setting, where you have control and influence, than to occupy a lower status in a grander environment where you have little say or control. It highlights the importance of personal agency and the satisfaction that comes from having control over one’s own destiny, even if it means occupying a seemingly less impressive role.

Possible Origins

The exact origin of this proverb is unclear, but it has likely evolved over centuries and draws upon universal human experiences and observations. Lions, often referred to as the “king of the jungle,” symbolize power, majesty, and strength, while dogs, although diverse in breeds, are typically seen as loyal companions and, in some cultures, as symbols of humility.

One interpretation suggests that the proverb may have been influenced by ancient civilizations where lions held a place of reverence and respect. In such societies, the lion symbolized power and authority, and the tail, being a less significant part of the lion’s anatomy, represented a subordinate position. Thus, the saying might have been born as a piece of advice for individuals to choose leadership roles in their own smaller communities or circles rather than aspiring to be a minor figure in a larger, more dominant group.

Examples in Conversation

  1. Workplace Scenario: Person A: “I’ve been offered a promotion at my current job, but the new position is in a smaller department.” Person B: “Well, remember the old saying, ‘Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.’ It might be a smaller team, but you’ll have more control and influence. That can be very rewarding.”
  2. Career Choice Discussion: Person A: “I’m torn between joining a prestigious company as an intern or working for a start-up where I’ll have more responsibility.” Person B: “Think about what’s best for your long-term growth. ‘Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.’ Starting small can lead to bigger opportunities later.”
  3. Personal Growth Advice: Person A: “I was invited to be a member of a huge volunteer organization, but I prefer working on my own projects.” Person B: “That’s understandable. Remember, ‘Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.’ Your individual efforts can make a meaningful impact too.”


The English proverb “Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion” emphasizes the importance of autonomy and leadership, even in seemingly smaller or less prestigious roles. It encourages individuals to prioritize control over their own destinies and the ability to make a meaningful impact rather than simply occupying a subordinate position in a more dominant group. While its exact origins remain uncertain, this timeless adage continues to offer valuable guidance in various aspects of life, reminding us that personal fulfillment and influence often matter more than external status and recognition.


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