I was reading a letter written by T. H. Huxley, when I encountered such a paragraph and was stuck by the phrase in bold:

Nothing is less to be desired than the fate of a young man who, as the Scotch proverb says, in “trying to make a spoon spoils a horn,” and becomes a mere hanger-on in literature or in science, when he might have been a useful and a valuable member of Society in other occupations.

I can surmise the meaning of it in that context. Huxley was convincing the young man to strike a balance between commercial work and academic pursuits. To avoid ruining his job while pursuing something he might not deserve.

I have searched the Google, only to find this: "make a spoon or spoil a horn", which is relative to but different from this phrase. Then my question is, what is the origin and the exact meaning of "trying to make a spoon spoils a horn"?


I've never heard the phrase. But Wikipedia (citing the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition) says "The word spoon derives from an ancient word meaning a chip of wood or horn carved from a larger piece."

  • Interesting. So the proverb may originate in Scotch when they used horn to make spoon. – Lerner Zhang Jan 30 '17 at 0:46
  • I don't know that it was particularly Scottish to make spoons from horn. ("Scotch" is a kind of whisky, not a language or a people). – Colin Fine Jan 30 '17 at 10:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.