Why do we say "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well"?

Well-Known Expressions

If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well


Only make a commitment if you're prepared to do it wholeheartedly


The earliest known use of this expression is in a 1746 letter from Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield to his son, also called Philip Stanhope. It is just one of about 400 letters the prolific British statesman wrote to his illegitimate son (whose mother was a French governess) over a 30-year period. The younger Philip died in 1768 leaving his widow, Eugenia, destitute. Fortunately, the letters were published in 1774 and appear to have been very popular, providing a handbook for worldly success for young men of the late 18th century and, we must hope, some income for Eugenia.

BATH, October 9, O. S. 1746

If care and application are necessary to the acquiring of those qualifications, without which you can never be considerable, nor make a figure in the world, they are not less necessary with regard to the lesser accomplishments, which are requisite to make you agreeable and pleasing in society. In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention: I therefore carry the necessity of attention down to the lowest things, even to dancing and dress. Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young man; therefore mind it while you learn it that you may learn to do it well, and not be ridiculous, though in a ridiculous act. Dress is of the same nature; you must dress; therefore attend to it; not in order to rival or to excel a fop in it, but in order to avoid singularity, and consequently ridicule. Take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another, as either too negligent or too much studied.

You may be wondering about "O. S." in the date. This is short for the Julian Calendar also known as the Old Style Calendar.

Back in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar or the New Style Calendar to replace Julius Caesar's "Old Style Calendar", first introduced around 50 A.D. The Italian states, Portugal and Spain adopted Gregory's calendar within the year but it took a long time to gain acceptance elsewhere. Great Britain and its colonies moved to it in 1752, Japan in 1873, China in 1912, the Soviet socialist republics in 1918 and Greece in 1923.

Caesar's calendar had been pretty accurate, all things considered, but gained about three days over a period of 400 years. Not a lot in the grand scheme you might think, but by the time Pope Gregory introduced his calendar, the year had slipped by two weeks - so October 9 in Bath was late September in the parts of Europe that had already moved to the Gregorian calendar.

Like the Julian Calendar, the Gregorian Calendar recognizes a leap year every four years, except that in the Gregorian Calendar century years are only leap years if they are divisible by 400; thus 1900 was a common year but 2000 was a leap year. Apparently a further refinement making years divisible by 4,000 common years rather than leap years will keep the calendar accurate to within one day for another 200 centuries. But it is safe to say that none of us will have to worry about that!

Alphabetical list of expressions

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