The Best-Laid Plans: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
June 6, 2023

The phrase "the best-laid plans" refers to the idea that even the most carefully arranged projects or schemes can often go awry.

In short:

"The best laid plans" is an idiom highlighting that careful planning cannot always prevent things from going wrong.

What Does "The Best-Laid Plans" Mean?

The idiom "the best-laid plans" conveys the inevitability of unpredicted problems or changes disrupting even the most carefully organized plans or projects. If you reference "the best laid plans," you're acknowledging that, despite meticulous planning, things might not proceed as expected.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning include:

  • Emphasizes the unpredictability of life events
  • Implies the futility of perfect planning
  • Recognizes the existence of factors beyond our control

Where Does "The Best-Laid Plans" Come From?

The idiom comes from a line in the 1786 poem "To a Mouse" by the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns.

The line reads:

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley."

Which translates to:

"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

Historical Example

"No! There is much to lament; and many lessons are presented to ourselves, in the perpetual discovery of the insufficiency of the best laid plans to ameliorate the character of fallen man."

- Village Plans and Domestic Sketches, 1828

10 Examples of "The Best-Laid Plans" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • We had intended to launch our new product line this month, but the best-laid plans often go astray, and we had to postpone.
  • They had the best-laid plans for their vacation, but their flight got canceled due to bad weather.
  • Even with the best-laid plans, we often find ourselves in a pickle when unpredictable situations arise.
  • We had the best-laid plans for our wedding day, but it poured rain, and we had to move everything indoors.
  • Sorry to hear that the best-laid plans of the marketing team were disrupted by sudden changes in the market.
  • I hope all is well with you, even though your best-laid plans went awry.
  • The best-laid plans for the school play fell through when the lead actor fell ill on the day of the performance.
  • Despite the best-laid plans, the new software rollout was met with unforeseen technical issues.
  • You devised the best-laid plans, yet they acted out of spite, disrupting everything.
  • Seize the day and make the best-laid plans even if things might not turn out great.

Examples of "The Best-Laid Plans" in Pop Culture

The phrase "the best-laid plans" often appears in literature, music, and film, often to denote the failure of a carefully designed plan.

Some examples include:

  • Best Laid Plans is a 1999 American crime drama film directed by Mike Barker and written by Ted Griffin. The film stars Reese Witherspoon, Alessandro Nivola, and Paul Rudd. The film follows a group of friends who plan a robbery, but things go wrong when one of them is killed.
  • The Best Laid Plans is a 1981 thriller novel by Sidney Sheldon. The novel tells the story of Leslie, a woman who is scorned by her husband, David. Leslie vows revenge and sets out to destroy David's life.
  • The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis is a political satire about a burnt-out political aide who quits just before an election.
  • In "Of Mice and Men," a novella by John Steinbeck, the title and the plot reference Burns's original poem, with characters facing the collapse of their well-laid plans.

Other/Different Ways to Say "The Best-Laid Plans"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "the best-laid plans."

Some of these include:

  • Even the most careful plans can go wrong
  • Despite our best efforts
  • No matter how much you plan
  • Plans don't always work out
  • Plans often go astray

These phrases all express the same concept of life's unpredictability and the occasional ineffectiveness of careful planning.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "The Best-Laid Plans":

  • What does "the best-laid plans" mean?

"The best laid plans" is an idiom that signifies the concept that even very careful planning cannot always prevent things from going wrong.

  • How can I use "the best-laid plans" in a sentence?

You can use the phrase in a sentence to denote a situation where a well-thought-out plan did not turn out as expected due to unforeseen circumstances. An example could be, "Despite the best laid plans, the fundraising event had to be postponed due to bad weather."

  • Where does the idiom "the best-laid plans" come from?

The idiom comes from a line in a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, "To a Mouse," written in 1785. 

  • Is "the best-laid plans" a negative phrase?

The phrase isn't necessarily negative but does highlight the inevitability of unforeseen problems, even in well-planned projects or schemes.

  • Can one use it in a formal context?

Yes, "the best laid plans" can be used in both formal and informal contexts. It's commonly used in literature, speeches, and professional settings.

  • Can one use the phrase in everyday conversation?

Yes, it is a common idiom used in everyday conversation to indicate when things don't go as planned, despite careful preparation.

  • Does the phrase have other variations?

One common variation is "the best laid plans of mice and men," which is closer to the original line from Burns's poem. It carries the same meaning as the shortened version.

  • What is the central theme of "the best-laid plans"?

The central theme is the unpredictability of life and the fact that, despite our best efforts and careful planning, things can still go wrong due to unforeseen circumstances.

  • Is there a book titled "The Best Laid Plans"?

Yes, there are several books with the title "The Best Laid Plans," including a novel by Sidney Sheldon and another by Terry Fallis. Both books explore the theme of plans going unexpectedly awry.

  • Can one use the phrase sarcastically?

Yes, like many idioms, "the best-laid plans" can be used sarcastically to highlight a plan that was doomed to fail from the start due to poor planning or unrealistic expectations.

Final Thoughts About "The Best Laid-Plans"

The idiom "the best-laid plans" emphasizes the unpredictability of life, reminding us that even the most meticulous plans can go awry due to unforeseen circumstances. You can use it in various contexts to indicate the failure of a plan, irrespective of how carefully it was laid out.

Key aspects of the phrase:

  • Ir reflects the uncertainty and unpredictability inherent in life.
  • It denotes a situation where a well-planned project does not turn out as expected.
  • People use it in both formal and informal contexts

Use this idiom when you want to express the notion that despite careful planning, things didn't turn out as expected due to circumstances beyond your control. It adds a touch of realism or a note of caution to discussions about future plans.

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