Good, better, best: St. Jerome?

Good, better, best, Never let it rest, Til your good is better, and your better best.

Attributed to St. Jerome, on what grounds I will never know. It sounds utterly unlike him. It doesn’t work as anything special sounding in Latin: “Bonum, melior, optimum. Non quiescat [or perhaps quiescas] priumquam bonum melior et melior optimum.” I will be stunned if anyone succeeds in finding it in his works.

But, just to prove the point:

  1. A Google search for good better best jerome turns up the usual plethora of “quotation” sites and no references. Remember that it’s a bad sign when no primary source references turn up on the first page or two because they almost always do turn up for an authentic quotation.
  2. Wikiquote doesn’t it have it under St. Jerome at all, not even under “misattributed” or on the discussion page. This doesn’t surprise me; I think the misattribution to St. Jerome is recent because ….
  3. The oldest Google Books hit is from 2009, in Inspiring Student Writers: Strategies and Examples for Teachers, which says it is “a popular saying attributed to St. Jerome.” None of the Google Books hits gives a reference to a primary source, naturally.
  4. I searched the text of St. Jerome from CCEL, both by looking at all 204 occurrences of the word better and by running a regex search of good.{1,20}better.{1,20}best over his works as a text file (if that makes no sense to you, don’t worry about it). It’s not there.

Is it absolutely impossible that St. Jerome wrote something that might have inspired someone else to formulate the saying? No, but there’s no evidence that it happened.

The saying itself has been around forever (relatively speaking). The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has a citation from 1904 (not St. Jerome!), but Google Books found it for me in Christian Work: Illustrated Family Newspaper – Volume 62 – Page 195, published in 1897, and it’s given there in a form that makes me think it was a well-known saying at the time.

Given that the misattribution appears to have happened in the early 21st Century, I’m going to point at the Internet and partial search results as the source for this one.

Verdict: Fauxtation

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