Better The Devil You Know: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 17, 2023

The expression "better the devil you know" suggests that dealing with a familiar but not ideal situation is preferable to risking an unknown one. This idiom stems from the idea that while the "devil" or situation you're familiar with might have its downsides, an unfamiliar situation could be even worse. It reminds us of the importance of weighing the known versus the unknown when making decisions.

In short:

  • "Better the devil you know" emphasizes the preference for familiar challenges over uncertain new ones.
  • It's a cautionary phrase highlighting the unpredictability of changing situations or relationships.

What Does "Better the Devil You Know" Mean?

The phrase "better the devil you know" conveys a preference for sticking with a familiar situation or individual, even if they aren't perfect, over venturing into the unknown. It underscores the human tendency to opt for predictability over uncertainty.

Let's delve into its core meanings and usage:

  • The "devil" represents a known problem or situation.
  • Choosing the known "devil" might be less risky than an unknown situation that could be worse.
  • The phrase is sometimes used when discussing relationships, jobs, or decisions.

However, just because something is familiar doesn't always mean it's the best choice. This idiom reminds us to weigh our options carefully.

Where Does "Better the Devil You Know" Come From?

The origins of this idiom are a bit cloudy, but it's believed to date back centuries.

Historical Usage

"For better is the devil you know than the devil you don't know." - This version of the phrase can be traced back to several old European proverbs.

10 Examples of "Better the Devil You Know" in Sentences

Let's look at how this idiom can be used in various contexts:

  • Even though I'm wary of Mr. Thompson's management style, it's better the devil you know; at least he can hold the fort during the company's crisis.
  • She didn't want to switch doctors midway through her treatment because it's better the devil you know.
  • Better the devil you know than the landlord you don't.
  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes it's better the devil you know than being blindsided by unexpected problems.
  • I thought about introducing new software to our oldest team member, but you can't teach an old dog new tricks; sometimes, it's better the devil you know.
  • Facing a curveball in the project, the team decided to stick with their original plan, thinking it's better the devil you know.
  • When it comes to making decisions, it's her prerogative, but sometimes it's better the devil you know than taking a risk.
  • Before arguing about the new policy, make sure you know what you're talking about; otherwise, it might be better the devil you know than proposing something flawed.
  • Despite the challenges, many prefer not to change their habits because it's better the devil they know.
  • Switching our supplier might seem like a good move, but what are the odds the new one will be any better? Sometimes, it's better the devil you know.

Examples of "Better the Devil You Know" in Pop Culture

  • Kylie Minogue had a hit song titled "Better the Devil You Know" in 1990.
  • In the TV series "Doctor Who," the Doctor used the phrase when discussing enemies.
  • The phrase is often referenced in literature, with characters weighing familiar evils against unknown threats.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Better the Devil You Know"

There are numerous ways to express the same idea as "better the devil you know."

Here's a list of alternatives:

  • Stick with the familiar.
  • Better safe than sorry.
  • A known evil is better than an unknown one.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Better the Devil You Know":

  • What does the phrase "better the devil you know" imply?

It implies that it's sometimes better to endure a known situation, even if it's not perfect, than to risk an unfamiliar one that could be worse.

  • How old is this idiom?

The exact origins are uncertain, but the idiom is believed to be several centuries old and has European roots.

  • Can this idiom be used in different situations?

Yes, it can be used in a variety of contexts, such as relationships, jobs, decisions, etc.

  • Is this phrase always about negative choices?

No, it's about weighing the familiarity of a situation against the unpredictability of a new one.

  • How has the idiom evolved?

Its basic meaning has remained consistent, but the exact phrasing and usage might vary across cultures and regions.

  • Do other languages have a similar idiom?

Many languages have phrases or sayings that convey a similar sentiment, though the exact wording might differ.

  • Why is the word "devil" used in the idiom?

"Devil" is used to represent a known problem or challenge. Historically, the devil symbolizes danger or evil, making it a fitting choice for the phrase.

  • Can the idiom be used in a positive context?

It can be neutral or slightly negative, emphasizing caution over adventurousness.

  • Is the phrase still popular in modern times?

Yes, it's still commonly used to express caution and preference for the familiar.

  • Has the phrase been used in popular culture?

Yes, it has appeared in songs, TV shows, movies, and books over the years.

Final Thoughts About "Better the Devil You Know"

The idiom "better the devil you know" is often said when acknowledging familiarity over unpredictability. Whether you're assessing a tricky situation, debating a change in your life, or simply mulling over choices, "Better the devil you know" serves as a reminder of the uncertainties of the unknown.

Here's a quick wrap-up:

  • The phrase emphasizes choosing a known challenge over an uncertain one.
  • It's commonly used both as serious advice and a light-hearted cautionary tale.

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