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The meaning and origin of the expression: A place for everything and everything in its place

A place for everything and everything in its place

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'A place for everything and everything in its place'?

The proverbial notion that there should be 'a place for everything and everything in its place' is the idea that everything should have somewhere to be stored and that it should be tidily returned there when not in use.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A place for everything and everything in its place'?

This proverb is variously associated with Samuel Smiles, Mrs Isabella Beeton and Benjamin Franklin. The Oxford Book of Quotations dates it from the 17th century. Such a reference is usually accurate, although the authors supply no evidence for their assertion. If correct, it would pre-date all of the above notables.

If it is indeed that old, it has made heroic efforts to keep itself out of print. It may be that the Oxford book is making a reference to a line in A Century of Sermons, John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, 1675:

The Lord hath set every thing in its place and order.

That isnt the full proverb as we now use it though, which I can't find any printed citations of from before the late 18th century. It appears in a story published by the Religious Tract Society in 1799 - The Naughty Girl Won:

Before, however, Lucy had been an hour in the house she had contrived a place for everything and put everything in its place.

Several other early citations are from nautical contexts, which isn't surprising considering the need to conserve space and promote tidiness aboard ship. Here's an example from Frederick Marryat's Masterman Ready; or the Wreck of the Pacific, 1842:

"In a well-conducted man-of-war every thing is in its place, and there is a place for every thing."

Slightly earlier, a modified version of the phrase was in use in the USA. This is from an item headed 'Brother Jonathan's Wife's Advice to her Daughter on her Marriage', in the Hagerstown Mail, Maryland, January 1841:

"A place for everything and everything in time are good family mottos."

The phrase is typical of the uplifting homilies that were promoted during the Victorian era (beginning 1837), e.g. 'cleanliness is next to godliness' (circa 1880s).

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

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