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

Meaning:

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

Background:

The first recorded use of this expression is in a letter from Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield to his son in 1746. It is just one of about 400 letters the prolific British statesman wrote to his son over a 30-year period. The son in question was Philip Stanhope's illigitimate son, also named Philip Stanhope. The younger Philip, whose mother was a French governess, died in 1768 leaving his widow, Eugenia, destitute. The letters were published in 1774 and appear to have been a big success, 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 maybe wondering about "O. S." in the date. This is short for "old style." Back in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII promulgated a new calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar. The "old style" calendar is the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar around 50 A.D., which was pretty accurate, all things considered, but over the period of 400 years gained about 3 days. Not a lot in the grand scheme you might think but by the time Pope Gregory introduced his calendar the year had slipped by 11 day difference - so October 9 in Bath, England would have been September 28 in most parts of mainland Europe, which had moved to the Gregorian calendar.

It took a long time for the Gregorian calendar to catch on in all places that had used the Julian calendar. Russia and Greece were among the last to convert in 1918 and 1923 respectively.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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