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The meaning and origin of the expression: He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

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He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon'?

This proverbial saying suggests that, if you have dealings with wicked people you should be cautious and distance yourself from them, or else you may be corrupted into their evil ways.

What's the origin of the phrase 'He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon'?

We now consider this proverb to be a cautionary warning against falling into bad company. In 14th century England, which is when and where this originated, people had a real and everyday fear of the devil, who was believed to be a tangible physical entity capable of corrupting and tricking humans into wicked ways. For them, 'supping with the devil' wasn't a metaphor as we would now understand it but an actual possibility.

The first form of the proverb that I know of is found in Geoffrey Chaucer's Squire’s Tale, 1390:

Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend.

[Therefore, whoever would eat with a fiend must have a very long spoon.]

The expression was recorded later in Erasmus’ collection of proverbs - Adages, 1545:

He had nede to haue a longe spone that shuld eate with the deuyl.

See also: the List of Proverbs.