Famous Sayings #108 — ‘Better Late Than Never’

June 11, 2018

Jim, you’re finally here! This meeting started 10 minutes ago, but better late than never.

better late than never, famous sayings
Here is a scene from the NBC hit show, Better Late Than Never. (From left) Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman, and Henry Winkler can be seen in Berlin as Bradshaw reads a letter written for Winkler. Taken via screenshot. (Video)

I’m trying my best to get these famous sayings posts on Sundays, but like last week, I’m a day behind. Better late than never.

While doing the research for this post, I discovered that there is a show with that title that airs on NBC. Better Late Than Never is an American reality-travel show that was based on a South Korean show entitled Grandpas Over Flowers. Each episode sees the cast traveling to foreign locations without luxuries and checking off items on their bucket lists. The American show stars Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman, William Shatner, and Henry Winkler (who serves as one of the series’ executive producers). Comedian Jeff Dye serves as their younger companion.

Better Late than Never is produced by Universal Television and it airs on NBC. The network bought the rights for the remake in 2014, the show began production in August 2015, and it first aired on August 23, 2016. The show is still running, and it was picked up for its second season on September 22, 2016.

I haven’t watched this show because I haven’t watched much television — beyond sporting events and select programs — for years. Perhaps I should watch this program, although I am a bit late to the party. Better late than never.

What Does ‘Better Late Than Never’ Mean?

As you can see, the phrase “better late than never” is self-explanatory. Often, when we use the phrase “better late than never,” we are lamenting on the timeliness (or lack thereof) of a person’s arrival, a development, or an event. Essentially, a person’s presence or the occurrence is welcome, the lateness is not.

As Gary Martin explains at The Phrase Finder, there may be a hint of sarcasm when someone says, “Better late than never.” Regardless, it is a bittersweet phrase because as one says something positive, they are simultaneously lamenting lateness.

When Did This Phrase Originate?

A few sources I consulted both pointed to Geoffrey’s Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (The Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale), circa 1386.

Here’s a passage cited by The Phrase Finder:

For bet than never is late.

Here’s a translation from The Idioms:

For better than never is late; never to succeed would be too long a period.

And here’s a translation from Poetry in Translation:

And end in folk purchasing fresh curses
From those that to it their wealth have turned.
O fie, for shame! – They that have been burned,
Can they not learn, alas, to shun the heat?
You that try it, I’d advise you to flee it,
Or lose all; better than never is late.
For wealth, ‘never’ is far too long to wait;
Though you search always, you’ll never find.

Dictionary.com cited information that placed the earliest usage of the phrase “better late than never” at around 1200. The Idioms page I consulted also cited 1200. However, the Latin phrase potiusque sero quam numquam, which translates to “better late than never,” appeared in History of Rome, which was written around 27 B.C. by Titus Livius.

Why Did I Choose This Phrase This Week?

Well, to be honest, I think it is a constant theme in my life and in what I’m researching.

As mentioned before, I am a chronic procrastinator. I honestly need help with that, but I know that I benefit from working with others who are on the same page. There’s something about knowing that other people count on you and respecting that that helps keep me on task.

As far as my research goes: There is someone I have in mind, and I plan on writing up a post about him sometime this month, if not this week because there have been a number of big developments connected to him. The man in question has been making some changes that are welcome and were a long time coming, but there is one change he may ultimately need to make in order to make the greatest impact possible.

Additionally, I am thinking about net neutrality. Today is when the Open Internet Order was officially repealed, but there is still a chance for Congress to overturn the FCC’s decision. If that happens, it will be a late development, but one that is welcome.

I must do my part by contacting my lawmakers, including those in my state’s legislature because California is considering a tougher law that is meant to protect consumers. (It’s just hard to talk on the phone, especially to strangers.)

Works Cited

“Better Late than Never.” Ginger Software. 1 Jan 2013. Web. Retrieved 11 June 2018. <http://www.gingersoftware.com/content/phrases/better-late-than-never/>.

“better late than never.” The Idioms. Web. Retrieved 10 June 2018. <https://www.theidioms.com/better-late-than-never/>.

“Better Late Than Never.” NBC.com. Web. Retrieved 11 June 2018. <http://www.nbc.com/better-late-than-never?nbc=1>.

“Better late than never | Define Better late than never at Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com. Web. Retrieved 10 June 2018. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/better-late-than-never>.

Martin, Gary. “Better late than never.” The Phrase Finder. Web. Retrieved 10 June 2018. <https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/better-late-then-never.html>.

Translated by Kline, A.S. “Chaucer, Geoffrey (c. 1343-1400) – The Canterbury Tales: XVIII; The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale.” Poetry in Translation. 2007. Web. Retrieved 11 June 2018. <https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/CanterburyTalesXVIII.php#anchor_Toc166150057>.

Various Authors. “Better Late Than Never (TV Series). Wikipedia. Last Updated 30 May 2018. Web. Retrieved 10 June 2018. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Better_Late_Than_Never_%28TV_series%29>.

Have any thoughts on the subject? Time’s yours.

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