A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

Recent entries:
“Better days are just around the corner. They are called Friday, Saturday and Sunday” (3/29)
“Nothing screws up your Friday like realizing it’s only Thursday” (3/29)
“Thursday—the most useless day of the week” (3/29)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (3/29)
“New York leads all cities in the number of people around whom you shouldn’t make a sudden move” (3/29)
More new entries...

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Entry from March 19, 2011
“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”

"Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” is an old saying that’s often been applied to politics. A politician might not be seen as the best person for the job, but often he or she is preferable to the voters over an unknown challenger (who could be worse).

The saying “devil you know, and the devil you don’t” has been cited in print since at least 1847. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” was written by Anthony Trollope in 1857.

Ken Greenwald of Wordwizard listed three classical sources (with different wording):

. 1539 “Nota res mala, optima. An euyl thynge knowen is best.” [with the annotation] “It is good keypng of a shrew that a man knoweth.”—Proverbs or Adages of Erasmus, translation of Adagia by R. Taverner, page 48

. 1576 “You had rather keepe those whom you know, though with some faultes, than take those whom you knowe not, perchaunce with moe faultes,”—Petit Palace by G. Pettie, page 84

. 1586 “The old pouerbe: Better is the euill known, than the good which is yet to knowe.”—The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities, a Spanish novella published anonymously and translated by D. Rowland, H6V


The Free Dictionary
better the devil you know (than the devil you don’t)
something that you say to mean it is better to deal with a person or thing you know, even if you do not like them, than to deal with a new person or thing who could be even worse I know Mike can be difficult to work with sometimes, but better the devil you know.

Google Books
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
2006
Pg. 608:
“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857)

Google Books
The Knight of Gwynne;
A tale of the time of the union

By Charles Lever, with illus. by “Phiz.” [pseud.]
London: Chapman and Hall
1847
Pg. 208:
Some vague philosophy about the “devil you know, and the devil you don’t,” seemed to decide his course, for he rushed from the kitchen in a state of frenzied desperation, and, with the blunderbuss at full cock, took the way towards the gate.

Papers Past
20 August 1869, Nelson (New Zealand) Evening Mail, Pg. 2:
Mete, like many more of his people, seems to think that ‘the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know,’ and therefore opposed the introduction of these terrible little hill men—‘because they are Hau-Haus and are bloodthirsty.’

Google Books
Harry Heathcote of Gangoil:
A tale of Australian bush life

By Anthony Trollope
Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz
1874
“There ain’t much difference in ‘em, Mr. Heathcote. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

27 November 1880, Sentinel (Trenton, NJ), pg. 2:
CHICAGO wants an elevated railroad. A New York paper advises her to stick to the street railways. “The Devil you know is better than the Devil that you don’t know,” quoths the Gothamite.

28 October 1994, Doylestown (PA) Intelligencer, “Outcome of state legislative races seldom in doubt,” pg. A20:
Or, even though some voters aren’t completely happy or even marginally happy with their current representation, the other choices on the ballot are no better, or might even be worse. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, March 19, 2011 • Permalink