Best-laid plans

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The phrase the best-laid plans is a translation of a Scottish proverb that was first published in 1786. A proverb is a short, pithy, common saying or phrase that particularly gives advice or shares a universal truth. A proverb is an aphorism. Many English proverbs are wise sayings or truths that are taken as quotations from Hebrew biblical scripture, including the Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, and the Gospel in the New Testament. Other proverbs, or inspirational or wisdom teachings, are taken from the other great religious books, or from a parable told by Aesop, as well as other literature. For instance, the proverb birds of a feather flock together is taken from literature; the phrase early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise is taken from an almanac. We will examine the meaning of the phrase best-laid plans, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The best-laid plans refers to something that has gone awry, something that has not turned out as well as one had hoped. The expression the best-laid plans carries the connotation that one should not expect for things to always turn out to plan. Like many proverbs, the best-laid plans is usually quoted by itself, though it is not the full proverb. The full proverb is, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This is a passage from the poem To a Mouse, written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1786. The verse was translated into English, the original Scottish quotation is: The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promised joy. Note that best-laid plans is spelled with a hyphen, as best-laid functions as an adjective before a noun. Laid is sometimes misspelled as layed, though layed is not a word. Laid is is the past tense and past participle tense of lay.


The UN rapporteur heard an hour of often moving testimonies from local people describing their stories of being pitched into hardship and despair through what Alston called the “human condition”: best-laid plans derailed by unexpected life-changing events such as serious illness, job loss or marriage breakdown. (The Guardian)

However, it’s a truism that the best laid plans don’t always go as expected and a minor hiccup with the audio recording almost spoiled the day. (The Port Stephens Examiner)

He talked about how even the best-laid plans can fail, but that your vision won’t, and he cautioned aspiring entrepreneurs against developing overly complicated solutions for problems while in the start-up phase. (The Sandton Chronicle)

I often hear students say, “I won’t qualify, because my parents make too much money;” FALSE, “I don’t want to take out loans, so I am not going to complete the FAFSA;” FALSE, “I haven’t even completed all my applications, so I can’t complete the FAFSA;” FALSE, “I don’t think I am going to attend college right after high school, so I don’t need to complete the FAFSA;” the best-laid plans sometimes change. (Forbes Magazine)

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