Home » Languages » English (Sr. Secondary) » Meaning of “Who Sups With The Devil Must Have A Long Spoon” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Meaning of “Who Sups With The Devil Must Have A Long Spoon” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Who Sups With The Devil Must Have A Long Spoon

Therefor behoveth him a ful long spone

That schal ete with a fend.

-CHAUCER : Canterbury Tales (“The Squire’s Tale”) (1388).

Joseph Chamberlain may have been the first to use the phrase in this form, when referring to Czarist Russia (see page 10). Its meaning is that it is vitally necessary, when one has dealings with evilly-disposed persons, to be wide awake to have all one’s faculties in working order. “Eternal vigilance,” Milton said, is “the price of political liberty”; but it is also the price of every precious heritage among men.

During the Peninsular War a French regiment arrived before the walls of Figueiras. Requested by the commander to provide hospitality for the troops, the prior replied that good quarters would be found in town for the men, but that he and his monks would entertain the commander and his staff. Always suspicious of friendships in an enemy country, the commander, a shrewd man, consented to accept the offered hospitality, but on one condition: that the prior and two of his monks should dine with the staff. The prior’s acceptance was of such a cordial nature that no one could possibly have suspected any lurking evil design; and all sat down to dine. The repast finished, the commander thanked the prior for his kindness; whereupon the latter rose and said: “Gentlemen, if you have any worldly affairs to arrange, no time should be lost, for in an hour, unless a miracle should intervene, we all shall know the secrets of the world to come.” The staff had been toasted in poisoned wine, and before the hour had elapsed the whole company —prior, monks, and all—were dead. The commander’s spoon was evidently not long enough I Had he been aware of the prior’s malicious intent, he would, doubtless, have said with the drunken Stephano, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Act II ii): “This is a devil and no monster; I will leave him; I have no long spoon.”


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