Why do we say "He who hesitates is lost"?

Well-Known Expressions

He who hesitates is lost

Meaning:

Action leads to success; delay/self-doubt does not

Background:

Although it seems likely that the idea expressed in this idiom is older, the modern-day expression is an adaptation of a line in Joseph Addison's 1712 play Cato: "The woman that deliberates is lost."

Marcia.
I dare not think he will: but if he should —
Why wilt thou add to all the griefs I suffer
Imaginary ills, and fancied tortures?
I hear the sound of feet! they march this way!
Let us retire, and try if we can drown
Each softer thought in sense of present danger.
When love once pleas admission to our hearts
(In spite of all the virtue we can boast)
The woman that deliberates is lost.

Cato: A Tragedy: Act 4, Scene 1

English essayist, poet and playwright Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719) wrote Cato, arguably his best remembered work of fiction, in 1712. The play, which was published with a prologue written by Alexander Pope, is based on the last days of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, generally known as Cato the Younger, to distinguish him from his great-grandfather, Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder)

Addison is also remembered for founding The Tatler and The Spectator. Addison and his long-time friend Richard Steele founded The Tatler in 1709 with the aim of publishing the news and gossip heard in London coffeehouses. While Steele and Addison's journal only lasted a couple of years, the various short-lived successors to it all considered themselves successors to it; as does the modern-day Tatler, established in 1901, which held a 300th anniversary party in 2009.

After closing The Tatler, Steele and Addison launched The Spectator. Its stated goal was "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality ... to bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses."

Alphabetical list of expressions

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