Posted by R. Berg on February 28, 2004
In Reply to: The Devil, a long spoon to sup with posted by ESC on February 28, 2004
: : I have been trying to discover the implications of the proverb "He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon" - Is this a warning to those contempating some kind of diabolical pact?
: HE SHOULD HAVE A LONG SPOON THAT SUPS WITH THE DEVIL - "If you keep bad company you will need to be on your guard.Sharing a meal with someone usually means you are already on quite good terms with them or that you want to get to know them better. If you agree to partake of the devil's hospitality, you are on dangerous ground and need to beware. The reference to a long spoon is obscure; probably it emphasizes the distance it is necessary to keep from the potent contamination of the devil. The proverb was current in the fourteenth century. Chaucer using it in his Canterbury Tales: 'Therfor bihoveth him a ful long spoon/ That shal ete with a feend,' thus herde I seye.' (The Squire's Tale, c1386). And Shakespeare referred to it in The Tempest where Stephano says of Caliban: 'This is a devil, and no monster; I will leave him; I have no long spoon.'" From the "Dictionary of Proverbs and their Origins" by Linda and Roger Flavell (Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1993).
In modern use, the proverb is unlikely to refer to literal diabolical pacts; it simply warns against getting involved with someone who can't be trusted.