Origin of Quote

Voltaire said “Making the best the enemy of the good”. I have also heard ‘Making “perfect” the enemy of “good”’. The differences are subtle, but still differences. Can anyone help me figure out the origin of the last quote?

Dr. Fat

Dr I can’t help you but I’ll look around,something to keep me occupied. I have never seen either before.I wish i had known them many years ago when I was working in a ‘quick and dirty’ paste up shop.I hated the rush rush rush “that’s ‘good enough’” attitude. i just couldn’t stand to let something go that wasn’t as perfect as it could be. Finally i just up and quit,the boss tred to get me to stay, said " but aside from being a perfection freak,your good at this" only thing that popped into my head to say was,'That’s just it I am not ‘good enough.’ he looked puzzled and I didn’t try to explain,but either would have worked. Gonna go play ‘search’ now,hope I’m back soon.

“Something inciteful that some one else once said”- Suhm Wonn (1397-1334)

Bartlett’s translates “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” as “The best is the enemy of the good.” and attributes it to the article in Voltaire’s Dictionnaire Philosophique on “Dramatic Art.”

I do not know enough French to comment on Bartlett’s translation.


Thanks for the original French and the “perfect” translation. Politically, was Voltaire referring to the aristocracy vs the masses, or was the meaning of the quote as I envision…trying oh so hard to make something perfect, and missing the boat altogether because of the single-mindedness of the pursuit of perfection…

tom, do you have a real bartlet’s or a web site? this is as close as i got, at my bartlet’s site,‘It sucks,’-Hoover
1.Conversation is the enemy of good wine and food.
Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) English director
Dr, could it be"The search for perfection is the enemy of good" ? Only I can’t find that either. Luckily I work for me now so I am the only one who suffers if a job doesn’t go out on time.

mr john, I have the non-electronic 16th edition. (I keep searching used book sales for the 15th, because the 16th is when they revamped it, dropping a lot of older stuff and inserting more pop culture from the 1960’s onward. I like having the newer stuff; I just don’t like missing any of the older.)

DOCTOR FAT, I’d guess that he simply meant that really good stuff tends to crowd out the complacently good stuff over time. (Elizabethan England was a hotbed of dramatists: how many besides Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson can most people name?) Since it is in his section on drama, I’m guessing that he was not discussing class or society. I don’t have his Dictionnaire Philosophique, just the Bartlett’s.


Actually, Tom, judging by how I’ve seen the quote used in my past studies (back when the Earth’s crust was still hardening), I think the Dr. is on the right track. I always thought of the expression to mean that good things (especially laws and policies) are often not attained because they are yet flawed, even though they would be preferable to the present state of affairs. People attack good things, and delay or prevent them, because they are not perfect.

It’s an old maxim in law and public policy that a helpful course is not to be rejected simply because it fails to solve ALL of the problem. That’s how I’ve thought of that quote. Upon reflection, though, it does have potential application to artworks that, say, are never completed due to the artist’s frustration that they are not perfect.

Who coined the phrase “coined the phrase”?

The Dr. (and Big) are indeed correct. That’s an acurate interpretation of what it means.

Omni, I’ll go along with tomnbig interpreting ‘Best’, but fats mentioned a possible ‘perfect’ which the good doctor and i interpet as the ‘search for perfection interfering with getting an acceptable result’
babar, ‘Coin a phrase’ was minted by Juan Centavo while fishing the outer banks, circa one fifty - 2 for a dollar.

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.”-Marx

Upon reflection I see that they said that, in the fine print though,dang lawers, ZOOM right by me , sorry yall. But is the ‘perfect’ a real coined phrase by someone or a misinterpretation.( misinterpretation of the language let’s not start all over again)

A literal translation, in this case, would give a pretty good sense of the intent, in my humble opinion: better is (often) the enemy of good. Basically, what it means is that you risk screwing up a good thing while trying to obtain something better.

I just came across another permutation: in Wag the Dog, DeNiro says “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow” That about sums it up, dontcha think?