views updated May 23 2018

better better a dinner of herbs than a stalled ox where hate is simple food accompanied by goodwill and affection is preferable to luxury in an atmosphere of ill-will. The saying is recorded from the mid 16th century, and originally represents a biblical allusion to Proverbs 15:17, ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, that a stalled ox, and hatred therewith.’ (Herbs in this sense means, ‘plants of which the leaves are used as food’.)
better a good cow than a cow of a good kind good character is more important than distinguished lineage; saying recorded from the early 20th century.
better are small fish than an empty dish a little is preferable to nothing at all. Saying, recorded from the late 17th century, comparable to half of Chancery.
better be an old man's darling than a young man's slave often used as an ironic commentary on marriage; early versions of this mid 16th century saying have warling, meaning ‘someone who is disliked or despised’, in place of slave.
better be envied than pitied even if one is unhappy it is preferable to be rich and powerful than poor and vulnerable. The saying is recorded from the mid 16th century, but earlier related sayings in classical Greek are found in the Pythian Odes of the Greek lyric poet Pindar (518–438 bc), ‘envy is stronger than pity,’ and in the Histories of Herodotus (c.485–c.425), ‘It is better to be envied than pitied.’
better be out of the world than out of the fashion life is not worth living without the social success that comes with being in the latest fashion. This saying is recorded from the mid 17th century.
better be safe than sorry one should always take precautions; proverbial expression of warning recorded from the mid 19th century (now often in the form, better safe than sorry).
better late than never even if one has missed the first chance of doing something, it is better to attempt it than not to do it at all. Recorded in English from the early 14th century, but a related saying, ‘it is better to start doing what one has to late than not at all,’ is found in 1st century bc Greek in the Roman Antiquities of the historian and writer Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
better one house spoiled than two used of two wicked or foolish people joined in marriage; saying recorded from the late 16th century. A version of the idea appears in a letter of 21 November 1884 from the novelist Samuel Butler (1835–1902), in which he comments, ‘It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four.’
the better the day, the better the deed frequently used to justify working on a Sunday or Holy Day. Recorded from the early 17th century; a related saying in 14th-century French translates as, ‘for a good day, a good deed.’
better the devil you know than the devil you don't know understanding of the nature of a danger may give one an advantage, and is preferable to dealing with something which is completely unknown, and which may well be worse. The saying is recorded from the mid 19th century, but related earlier sayings from the 16th century include, ‘an evil thing known is best.’ It is often found in the shorter form better the devil you know.
better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all affirmation of the value of love, even if a relationship ends unhappily; originally from William Congreve The Way of the World (1700), ‘Say what you will, ‘tis better to be left, than never to have lov'd.’
better to light one candle than to curse the darkness a statement of the importance of even a small positive action; the motto of the American Christopher Society (founded 1945), said by the society to derive from ‘an ancient Chinese proverb’ When Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, the Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson said of her, ‘She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.’
better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep a short and adventurous life is preferable to dull longevity. The saying is first recorded in English in 1800 as the view of Tipu Sahib (c.1750–99), sultan of Mysore in India, in the form ‘In this world I would rather live two days like a tiger, than two hundred years like a sheep.’ In recent times it has been associated with the climber Alison Hargreaves, who died on Everest in 1995.
better to marry than to burn a view of marriage as a necessary evil, if sexual abstinence is not achievable. Recorded as a saying from the early 20th century, and alluding to St Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9, ‘I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.’
better to wear out than to rust out it is better to remain active than to succumb to idleness: used particularly with reference to elderly people. Frequently attributed in its current form to Bishop Richard Cumberland (d. 1718), but similar comments are recorded from the mid 16th century.
better wed over the mixen than over the moor It is better to marry a neighbour than a stranger. Recorded from the early 17th century; mixen is an archaic or dialect term for a midden or dunghill (that is, sited in one's own farmyard).
it is better to be born lucky than rich often with the implication that riches can be lost or spent, but that good luck gives one the capacity to improve one's fortunes; saying recorded from the mid 17th century.
it is better to give than to receive the idea that generosity confers benefits on the giver rather than on the one who receives is often found with reference to Acts 20:35, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ The saying is recorded from the late 14th century.
it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive achievement of a goal is often less satisfying than the effort expended in reaching it. The saying comes from Robert Louis Stevenson's Virginibus Puerisque (1881), ‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.’

See also change the name and not the letter, change for the worse and not the better, discretion is the better part of valour, example is better than precept, the grey mare is the better horse, the half is better than the whole, a live dog is better than a dead lion, something is better than nothing, two heads are better than one.


views updated May 11 2018

bet·ter1 / ˈbetər/ • adj. 1. comparative of good and well. ∎  of a more excellent or effective type or quality: hoping for better weather the new facilities were far better I'm better at algebra than Alice. ∎  more appropriate, advantageous, or well advised: there couldn't be a better time to start this job.2. partly or fully recovered from illness or injury: she's much better today his leg was getting better. ∎  fitter and healthier; less unwell: we'll feel a lot better after a decent night's sleep.• adv. comparative of well1 . ∎  more excellently or effectively: Johnny could do better if he tried. ∎  to a greater degree; more: I liked it better when we lived in the country. ∎  more suitably, appropriately, or usefully: the money could be better spent on more urgent cases.• n. 1. the better one; that which is better: the Natural History Museum book is by far the better of the two a change for the better.2. (one's betters) chiefly dated or humorous one's superiors in social class or ability: amusing themselves by imitating their betters.• v. [tr.] improve on or surpass (an existing or previous level or achievement): bettering his previous time by ten minutes. ∎  make (something) better; improve: his ideas for bettering the working conditions. ∎  (better oneself) achieve a better social position or status: the residents are mostly welfare mothers who have bettered themselves. ∎  overcome or defeat (someone): she bettered him at archery.PHRASES: be better off be in a better position, esp. in financial terms.the —— the better used to emphasize the importance or desirability of the quality or thing specified: the sooner we're off, the better the more people there the better.the better part of almost all of; most of: it is the better part of a mile.better than more than: he'd lived there for better than twenty years.the better to —— so as to —— better: he leaned closer the better to hear her.for better or (for) worse whether the outcome is good or bad: ours, for better or for worse, is the century of youth.get the better of (often of something immaterial) win an advantage over (someone); defeat or outwit: curiosity got the better of her. go one better narrowly surpass a previous effort or achievement: I want to go one better this time and score. ∎  narrowly outdo (another person): he went one better than Jack by reaching the finals.had better do something would find it wiser to do something; ought to do something: you had better be careful.have the better of be more successful in a contest: she usually had the better of these (or little) better than just (or almost) the same as; merely: government officials who were often no better than·ter2 • n. variant spelling of bettor.


views updated May 29 2018

better adj. (OE.); adv. (XIII). OE. bet(e)ra (adj.) = OS. betiro, OHG. bezziro (G. besser), ON. betri, Goth. batiza :- Gmc. *batizan-, f. *bat-, rel. to OE. bōt BOOT1, bētan improve.
Hence better vb. XIV. betterment XVI.