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There's a famous Mario Puzo quote from The Godfather.

Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.

How to interpret this sentence?

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I don't understand how I got a negative vote :) – sarat Feb 15 '12 at 8:22
I think it's a decent question, and so I've up-voted it to cancel out that down-vote. Also, it might not hurt (no pun intended) to mention related sayings, such as "Living well is the best revenge." and "It's not enough for me to succeed. You must fail.". – Hexagon Tiling Feb 15 '12 at 12:06
It's such a cliche I've come to dislike it. Even older, but to me still fresh, is this from 1859 Vengeance is not the less certain because delayed; that revenge is best that walks with feet of lead, but when the time shall come, strikes with a hand of iron. – FumbleFingers Feb 15 '12 at 18:57
"The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." A concept rejected by Plutarch. But see, "Retribution": Though the mills of God grind slowly, Yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, With exactness grinds he all. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – ab2 Jul 13 at 1:01
@Mari-LouA I like to imagine that the OP has laying a awake at night thinking about this for the last three years, and now I've finally given him closure. :P – dwjohnston Jul 13 at 2:36

9 Answers 9

up vote 8 down vote accepted

What it means is that revenge is often a hot blooded response to a hurt, a furious lashing out as a reaction to the hurt. However, if you want to truly punish your enemy you must stop, and, in a cold and calculating manner, determine what and how to return and recompense yourself for the hurt he has done you.

The food metaphor is fairly random, the basic meaning is cold blooded revenge is better than hot blooded revenge. Puzo did not originate the expression, it has a history before him. However, it is associated with him because in some people's mind it is a good characterization of one of the core sub-themes of "The Godfather", and particularly the philosophy of Michael Corleone.

Whether that is true, or whether revenge actually is best served cold, I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

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I like your answer but these are just speculations. @MrHen answer hits bull in the eye if you know what I am talking about. In "The Godfather" Michael Corleone trick his enemies not waiting to calm down, but rather to hit them unexpectedly. – speedyGonzales Feb 15 '12 at 7:33

Wikipedia discusses "revenge is a dish best served cold":

The proverb suggests that revenge is more satisfying as a considered response enacted when unexpected, or long feared, inverting the more traditional revulsion toward 'cold-blooded' violence. In early literature it is used, usually, to persuade another to forestall vengeance until wisdom can reassert itself. This sense is lost in recent presentations.

Strangely, this is not what my initial reaction to the phrase has been. Having first heard it spoken by Klingons I had assumed it was a pun on dying in space which — as you know — is rather cold.

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...which is to say there is nothing about this that is peculiar to English (i.e. there are no untranslatable idioms, unless you come from a culture where you don't cook food before eating it). – Mitch Feb 15 '12 at 4:35

Revenge is a dish best served cold. - suggesting that emotional detachment and planning ("cold blooded") are best for taking revenge.

The earliest well-known example of this proverb in print appears as "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" in the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. (Dangerous Liaisons)

The saying exists in many cultures, including Sicilian, Spanish and Pashtun, making its ultimate origin difficult to determine. The modern English wording is attributed to Dorothy Parker. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and, in reference, Kill Bill) it is said to be a Klingon proverb and was quoted by Khan Noonian Singh. In comic books it is often associated with Batman's enemy Mr. Freeze.

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Speaking of early antecedents for the sentiment that "Vengeance is a dish best served cold," we have this famous (and perhaps proverbial) remark made by the fourteen-year-old Grettir from Grettir's Saga (written circa 1325):

þræll einn þegar hefnisk en argr aldri

which is translated by Denton Fox and Herman Pálsson in their edition of the saga as

Only a slave avenges himself at once; and only a coward never.

This saying suggests that—in fourteenth-century Iceland, and perhaps for a long time before that—an unconsidered revenge was viewed as less admirable than a carefully plotted one, but that not taking revenge at all was deemed utterly shameful.

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The OED gives the meaning as "vengeance is more satisfying when exacted in cold blood" and presents a quotation from 1871. It also notes that the same sentiment had been expressed in German in 1884 as "das Gericht der Revanche kalt zu essen".

The definition given by the OED suggests that the expression is not intended as an admonishment not to act hot-headedly, but rather an observation that the full emotive satisfaction of revenge comes biding one's time before hurting one's foe.

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The question has already been answered (several times), but I'd like to add a caveat.

The general conception is that revenge is more satisfying if it's properly planned and not done in haste. It should be pointed out that properly planned revenge/justice is also much safer (though I'm not certain what the exact connotation of the original saying was).

In plain English, if a supervisor harasses you, and you lose your temper and punch in him in the face, you'll probably get fired (and maybe go to jail). But if you take a deep breath and cool down, you can then calmly take your time plotting a much safer form of revenge.

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Revenge is a dish best served cold means to try to get someone back for the cost they cost you, and that revenge is sweet, like if someone does something bad to you, eventually you are going to try to get revenge.

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None of the above remarks is correct, although all are common misconceptions. In particular, the expression does not appear in Dangerous Liaisons in English or French, in any form. In its early appearances in literature, it is used as a stratagem to persuade a young hothead to delay a foolish attempt at revenge, giving mature good sense a chance to reassert itself and dictate a wiser course.

The first known appearance in English is in an 1861 translation of the 1846 French novel "Mathilde", but it is italized there as if quoted from a common langue d'oc expression.

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I wouldn't exactly say that "none of the above is correct", as the top and accepted answer says precisely what you are saying. – RegDwigнt Oct 22 '13 at 10:41
A worthwhile note. However the provided context suggests that this intent is not the literal meaning that was meant to be conveyed to possible avengers but instead, a tactful method of achieving the result due to an interpretation similar to the other suggestions provided here. We need more information to ascertain what type of message it originally sent and it should be noted that a good analogy usually applies to a given situation in more ways than one. – Tonepoet Jul 13 at 2:07

To me, it has always meant that if you let your anger cool, you will decide against attempting revenge, because it is likely to rebound on you. That is, the dish that is revenge will be less appetizing, like a dish that has gone cold.

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Not all dishes are best served hot, some dishes taste better when they have cooled down, and some actually improve the next day. Likewise if "revenge" were a main dish or a dessert, you should wait to eat it until it is has cooled down. – Mari-Lou A Jul 13 at 2:42

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