Keep them looking new! (if you choose to)

Started Jan 23, 2012 | Discussions thread
MrSkelter Contributing Member • Posts: 703
Re: I agree......

Peter Mueller wrote:

Robin Casady wrote:

Peter Mueller wrote:

Robin Casady wrote:

Hi Robin,

No no, not at all. Verschlimmbessern means to make matters worse by trying to improve them, which means, in a way the opposite of what you said. Your quote means that even the good can be improved on, while my term says that even a bad situation can be made worse. By the way: your American phrase "the better is the enemy of the good" is, as far as I know, a translation from the French original as written by, again as far as I know, Voltaire.

You are right on the Voltaire part, but you have the meaning backwards.

"The moral is that perfectionism is contrary to a satisfactory competence."

With all due respect, Robin, but Wikipedia got this one wrong. The original is "le mieux est l'ennemi du bien", which should be translated "the better is the enemy of the good", not the perfect or, as Wikipedia translates it, "the best".

Voltaire, as I understand him, means indeed that even the good can be improved on. Even things that everybody accept as good and the gold standard can be made better and, thus, obsolete. Even a D3s, which is accepted as the best low-light camera there is, will some day be outperformed by a better sensor. The better is the enemy of the good means just that: good is good, but better is even better than good.

Everyone I know who has used a phrase similar to, "the better is the enemy of the good." (usually dropping the first and last "the") believes it to mean that trying to make something better often ends up preventing it from being good. Whether it is the perfectionist who can never finish something, or the bungler who ruins something good in trying to make it better, all speak to the danger of attempting make improvements on something that is good enough already.

I asked a friend who is a retired professor of French literature (USC). He believes it would have been in Voltaire's nature for his quote to have the meaning I suggested. He went on to add:

"Le mieux chasse le bien" "The Better drives out the Good" is an authentic French proverb.

Shakespeare: "striving to better, we often mar what's well."

When you say, "The better is the enemy of the good means just that: good is good, but better is even better than good." I think you misinterpret the English. The use of the word "enemy" implies that better hurts or destroys good.
Robin Casady

Hi Robin,

My wife who actually is French and also a former professor of French literature agrees with you. Merde -- I hate it when I'm wrong. And still, I like my interpretation so much better...


For my life to date I've thought the meaning was that in striving to improve something we often ignore an adequate solution. A subtle difference but I didn't think it implied the good solution was damaged, just passed over in a quest for more.

Can a professor tell me if that's valid?

Thanks in advance for the lesson.

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