A frog at the bottom of a well

Frog in a well

Meaning: Someone with a narrow perspective

Originated in: 🇹🇼 China

Original quote: 井底之蛙 (Chinese)

Earliest attestation: Zhuangzi by Zhuang Zhou (circa 300)

A frog in a well is someone who has a very narrow perspective but does not know it. He thinks his limited experiences comprise everything there is in the world, so he knows everything. Yet in reality he has had very limited experiences and just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

The term comes from an old Chinese fable where a frog lives at the bottom of a well. He was the only creature in the well that could jump so well and maneuver about so well. He was prideful and thought he was the best creature in the world, and boasted about how wonderful his mastery of the world was to a turtle who was passing by and tried to show off his well to the turtle. Then the turtle told him that the ocean exists and how big it is. The well was minute and meaningless in comparison. This shattered the frog’s worldview and left him dumbfounded. He realized that his world was so small and that he knew so little and that he was comparatively insignificant, contrary to how he saw himself.

The fable is a good reminder to remain humble and not think you know everything or have experienced everything. There is always more to learn, and we should be open to listen to others’ unique perspectives and experiences. The derived idiom is now a derisive put-down for someone who fails to realize this and acts like the frog in the story.