Proverb: Whatever is worth doing is worth overdoing, (1895)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 16 18:03:50 UTC 2014

The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has an entry for "Anything worth
doing is worth Overdoing" with an initial citation in 1962. I was
asked via a tweet to explore the saying. Nowadays the expression is
linked to Mick Jagger.

In 1895 an instance with a somewhat different phrasing was printed,
and this cite may move the genesis of the proverb before the 1900
cut-off date for the "modern" designation.

[ref] 1895 February 26, London Evening News, The City: Overdoing a
Thing, Quote Page 3, Column 7, London, Middlesex.

[Begin excerpt]

Whatever is worth doing, according to the Stock Exchange, is worth
overdoing, and so it came about that Canadian Pacific shares were
knocked down nearly six points yesterday on a piece of news that was
at any rate expected in some quarters.
[End excerpt]

In 1906 the adage was described as a dangerous principle.

[ref] 1906 April 16, North Adams Transcript, Editorial: Extremes vs.
Discrimination, Quote Page 4, Column 1, North Adams, Massachusetts.

[Begin excerpt]
We are very apt, in this day and nation, to act as though we held to
the principle that what is worth doing is worth overdoing. It is this
passion for extremes that is involved, a passion which the Transcript
has more than once referred to as perhaps the chief danger of the
[End excerpt]

In 1909 a version of the saying was described as an anti-proverb or
twisted proverb. The proverb being twisted was probably "Whatever is
worth doing is worth doing well":

[ref] 1909 December 31, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Reform in Athletics,
Quote Page 4, Column 6, Brooklyn, New York. (Old Fulton)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]

Our sports have great uses, says an editorial in the Century, but it
is well to remember that emulation is a national trait which may be
overstimulated, and when it applies to athletics it becomes difficult
to dissuade American youth from perverting the time-honored adage to
read: "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth overdoing."
[End excerpt]

In 1914 the saying was attributed to Keble Howard. Apparently, he was
a novelist and playwright:

[ref] 1914 July 23, The Yale Expositor, Speaking of Dancing? (Short
freestanding item), Quote Page 2, Column 7, Yale, St. Clair County,
Michigan. (Chronicling America)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Speaking of Dancing?

Anything that's worth doing at all is worth overdoing.--Keble Howard.
[End excerpt]

By 1948 another thematically related adage had emerged:

[ref] 1948 October 21, Amarillo Daily News, Random Thoughts by Lewis
Nordyke, Quote Page 14, Column 4, Amarillo, Texas.

[Begin excerpt]
When a thing is not worth overdoing, leave it alone. Henry B. Haskins.
[End excerpt]


The American Dialect Society -

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