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What are English equivalents for following Russian idiom: "best is enemy of the good"? In Russian it means that if you are going too much after perfection you may make things even worse instead of achieving of something good.

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It's originally French rather than Russian, though in the French poem it comes from Voltaire says "A wise Italian says...". So depending on whether he really did borrow it from an Italian source, or if that is a fiction of the poem's, it's either Italian, or else by a fictional Italian who is actually French. –  Jon Hanna Jan 18 '13 at 10:33
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5 Answers 5

This is attributed to Voltaire as ‘Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien’, and occurs in English as 'The best is the enemy of the good.'

However, there appears to be a preference for ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’ in American English. Of the 36 records of ‘the enemy of the good’ in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, 22 are preceded by ‘the perfect’ (and, in one instance, ‘perfection’). 10 are preceded by ‘the best’ and 4 by ‘the better’. All four records in the British National Corpus are preceded by ‘the best’. It may be that the expression arose independently in the United States, but that in the UK it was a conscious translation of the French.

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Isn't it "better" or "perfect" instead of "Best"? –  SF. Jan 18 '13 at 9:41
    
@SF. Not in my experience. The aphorism derives its force from the juxtaposition of the positive ('good') and the superlative ('best'), and it matches the French. –  Barrie England Jan 18 '13 at 9:48
    
Very frequently indeed in my experience, changing it to a juxtaposition of relative to absolute. –  Jon Hanna Jan 18 '13 at 10:35
    
@Jon Hanna. I have added to my answer, prompted by yours. –  Barrie England Jan 18 '13 at 17:30
    
Huh. I don't think I've ever heard the "perfect" version until now. Of course, the way I usually encounter this saying is in the form of an admonition: "Don't let the best be the enemy of the good", in which form it's known in my circles as Cariadoc's Maxim. –  Marthaª Jan 18 '13 at 17:54
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In English it's normally translated as:

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Edit:

A related sentiment with a very different tone is:

Don't worry be crappy.

This play on the song title "Don't Worry Be Happy" though only applies to cases where incremental improvement is possible - a subset of the cases where Voltaire's saying applies. The idea is that releasing something when it still has even clear flaws can in the long term lead to better results (due to feedback, additional funding on the back of the first version, or interest from open-source contributors) than if you waited until that first version was much better.

I've seen people use the first quote to justify the second.

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I've also heard this stated as

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

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George Patton: "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." –  StoneyB Jan 18 '13 at 12:46
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Too much of anything is good for nothing

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

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Welcome to EL&U. We appreciate links to sources which support your answer. :) –  medica Jan 2 at 10:33
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In a workplace environment, I would say "Don't tempt Murphy.", implying Murphy's law (if anything can go wrong, it will) escalates the more a thing is worked on.

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