Better The Devil You Know

Meaning of Idiom ‘Better the Devil You Know’

The expression ‘better the devil you know’ is used to indicate that it may be better to deal with a person or a thing that you are familiar with than to have to deal with a completely new and unknown one. Even though you may not want to interact or deal with a certain person, for example, at least you know their faults and may be able to predict their behavior, etc. If you have to choose between this person and a completely new person, whose faults may be worse, you should probably choose the former.


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Usage

“I hesitated to call Mike after he had been so difficult last time, but better the devil you know.”

“I know you don’t like Ethan but we need this job done fast, and, besides, better the devil you know.”

“While the people are not happy with the government and some talk of change, the general view seems to be better the devil you know.”

Origin

This is a shortened version of the old proverb, ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’ This proverb is related to the Latin proverb, expressed in 1539 in Proverbs or Adages out of Erasmus by R. Taverner, “nota res mala, opima,” which means “an evil thing known is best.” This concept has been expressed in many forms since antiquity.

It first appeared in print in 1857 in the novel Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope:

“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know’ is an old saying, and perhaps a true one, but the bishop had not yet realized the truth of it.”

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