There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip

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There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip is an old English proverb. It implies that even when the outcome of an event seems certain, things can still go wrong.

A Latin form is found in Erasmus's "Adagia," I.iv.1 ("Multa cadunt inter calicem supremaque labra") which appears to derive from an epigram by Palladas in The Greek Anthology (X, 32).

The proverb appears to derive from a Greek legend in which Ancaeus, one of the Argonauts, returns home to his winery. A local soothsayer had previously predicted the he would die before he tasted another drop of his wine, thus the Argonaut calls the soothsayer and toasts him for the Argonaut had survived his journey. The soothsayer replies to the toast with a phrase corresponding to the English proverb. As he finishes his toast, the Argonaut raises a cup filled with wine to his lips but is called away to hunt a wild boar before he could take a sip. The Argonaut is killed hunting the boar.[1]

The first occurrence of the proverb in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is in Thackeray's Pendennis, 1850.[2] The proverb appeared earlier in America, showing up in Catharine Maria Sedgwick's The Linwood's or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since' in America (1835). While a group of banditti ransack Mrs. Archer's house, the leader, Sam Hewson, drops a bottle of brandy; after it shatters, he says, "Ah, my men! there's a sign for us--we may have a worse slip than that 'tween the cup and the lip: so let's be off--come, Pat."[3] Later in the novel, the narrator recounts, "That "there is many a slip between the cup and the lip" is a proverb somewhat musty; but it pithily indicates the sudden mutations to which poor humanity is liable."[4]

Ben Jonson's play, A Tale of a Tub, written possibly in 1596, performed in 1633 and published in 1640 in the second folio of Jonson's works, has this in Act III, Scene VII: "Many things fall betweene the cup, and lip: And though they touch, you are not sure to drinke." This was in the version of the play at

In the 1988 film Young Guns, Billy the Kid (played by Emilio Estevez) tells his band of outlaws in response to their concern of potential hanging, that if they are caught that they will most certainly get hanged, and then utters the phrase but "There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip".

In an early episode of The West Wing, the character of Donna Moss (played by Janel Moloney) misquotes the expression, saying "There's many a slip 'twixt the tongue and the wrist, Josh." [5]


  1. ^ Titelman, Gregory, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Random House Reference, March 5, 1996
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., Oxford University Press, USA, August 11, 2008
  3. ^ Catharine Maria Sedgwick, The Linwoods, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since' in America, ed. Maria Karafilis (Hanover, UP of New England, 2002), 167.
  4. ^ Ibid, 269
  5. ^