Necessity is the mother of invention

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is an English-language proverb. It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.[1]


The need to communicate led to the creation of different communication devices – this is a prime example of the expression: Necessity is the mother of invention.

    "When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it."[2]

  • According to the Cambridge Dictionary, this is "an expression that means that if you really need to do something, you will think of a way of doing it."[3]
  • Longman dictionary has defined the proverb as: "if someone really needs to do something, they will find a way of doing it."[4]


The author of this proverb is unknown. It is commonly misattributed to Plato to Benjamin Jowett's popular idiomatic 1871 translation of Plato's Republic, where in Book II, 369c, his translation reads: "The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention."  Jowett's translation is noted for injecting the kind of flowery language popular among his Victorian-era audience. Jowett himself, in Plato's Republic: The Greek Text, Vol. III "Notes", 1894, p. 82, gives a literal translation of Plato as "our need will be the real creator", without the proverbial flourish.

Before Jowett's translation, the phrase was familiar to England in Latin, though seemingly not in English. In 1519, the headmaster of Winchester and Eton, William Horman, used the Latin phrase Mater artium necessitas ("The mother of invention is necessity") in his book Vulgaria, of unknown provenance. In 1545 Roger Ascham used a close English version, "Necessitie, the inventour of all goodnesse", in his book Toxophilus. In 1608, George Chapman, in his two-part play The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, used a very similar phrase: "The great Mother / Of all productions, grave Necessity." But the earliest actual usage of the proverb "Necessity is the mother of invention" in English is usually ascribed to Richard Franck, who used it in his book Northern Memoirs, calculated for the meridian of Scotland (1658).[1]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In 1964 Frank Zappa took over leadership of the American rock band The Soul Giants. He renamed the band The Mothers, referring to the jazz compliment of mother for a great musician. However, their record company, Verve Records, objected to the insinuation (i.e., "motherfuckers") and by necessity Zappa had to change the name, creating (and defining) The Mothers of Invention.[5]
  • Danish economist Ester Boserup believed "necessity is the mother of invention"[6] and this was a major point in her book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure.
  • The headquarters of Project Freelancer in the web series Red vs. Blue is a spaceship called the "Mother of Invention", referencing the Director of Project Freelancer using any means he thinks are necessary to ensure the survival and advancement of humanity.
  • An episode of Schoolhouse Rock! took the phrase literally, portraying great American inventors as conceiving their ideas to address needs their mothers had in the episode "Mother Necessity".
  • In a CS2150 Lecture, Joseph Remines used the phrase "invention comes from necessity" in reference to a conversation about interfamilial marriage in the two Virginias.


In an address to the Mathematical Association of England on the importance of education in 1917, Alfred North Whitehead argued that "the basis of invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity." and in contrast to the old proverb "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer to the truth.[7]

In other languages and cultures[edit]

  • Arabic : "الحاجة ام الاختراع", which literally means "Necessity is the mother of invention."
  • Bulgarian: “Неволята Учи”, which literally means “Misery Teaches.”
  • Russian: "Голь на выдумки хитра", which literally means "Poor people are crafty."[8].
  • Japanese: 必要は発明の母, which literally means "Necessity is the mother of invention."
  • Polish: "Potrzeba jest matką wynalazków", which literally means "Necessity is the mother of the inventions."
  • Danish: "Nød lærer nøgen kvinde at spinde", which literally means "Need teaches naked woman to spin (wool)."
  • Spanish "La necesidad es la madre de la ciencia", which literally means "The necessity is the mother of science"
  • German "Not macht erfinderisch", which means literally "necessity makes you inventive"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Necessity is the mother of invention". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Necessity". Oxford dictionaries. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Necessity is the mother of invention". Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Necessity Longman". Longman dictionaries. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  5. ^ "The Mothers of Invention". BBC Music. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  6. ^ Peter P. Rogers; Kazi F. Jalal; John A. Boyd (2008). An Introduction To Sustainable Development. Earthscan. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-1-84407-521-8. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  7. ^ Plato; Julius A. Sigler (1 December 1996). Education: Ends and Means. University Press of America. pp. 140–. ISBN 978-0-7618-0452-9. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Голь на выдумки хитра". Wiktionary, The free dictionary.