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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
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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
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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
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It's just basic culinary advice, like vichyssoise or gazpacho. –  Mitch Sep 30 '13 at 21:50
    
Only if serving with a nice chianti. –  naughtilus Jul 9 at 8:57

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 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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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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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

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