In an article I see this phrase "Faustian bargain". Both I and my teacher were unable to translate or understand it. Can you help me and explain this phrase?


The reason for linking all the modules together in a single address space, with no protection between the modules, is that designers have made a Faustian bargain: better performance at the cost of more system crashes. We will quantitatively examine the price of this trade-off below.

This comes from the first page of this work: http://docs.huihoo.com/minix/reliable-os.pdf or,5 (preloaded as google html view)

  • That is surpising. Do you think because your teacher did not know Faustian Bargain and about Faust, or did not know about the system design subject matter?
    – lex
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:45
  • 2
    Or that neither of you could Google "Faustian bargain" which gives you a page of answers.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 10:45
  • Simply put: A deal where one abandons their moral and/or spiritual values in exchange for money, power, knowledge or some other benefit. In other words, "a deal with the devil". Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


'Faust' is the main character in German legend. From Wikipedia:

Faust or Faustus (Latin for "auspicious" or "lucky") is the protagonist of a classic German legend. Though a highly successful scholar, he is unsatisfied, and makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

Making a 'Faustian bargain' can be interpreted as making a deal with the devil - it may seem like a good deal, but there is always a catch, and that catch is usually very, very bad.

Here is a wikipedia article discussing 'Deals with the Devil', which they also term as a 'Faustian bargain':


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    "Making a 'Faustian bargain' can be interpreted as making a deal with the devil - it may seem like a good deal, but there is always a catch, and that catch is usually very, very bad." While every fictional version of Faust (Brendon Frasier was in a mediocre filming of it about 10 years back; Elizabeth Hurley was a great Mephistopheles though) was about how the deal turned out badly, but when people use the phrase in real life, they are usually emphasizing the distasteful nature of the counter party and the lopsided terms, not any hidden catches or tricks. Commented Feb 7, 2011 at 22:57
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    @Malvolio: I'm not sure… I have seen many uses of "Faustian bargain" where there is no distasteful Mephistopheles. In the example quoted ("a Faustian bargain: better performance at the cost of more system crashes"), it seems to me they're not talking of system crashes as the devil but as costs. No? Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 9:11
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    @ShreevatsaR -- I think that's just a misuse. Faust without Mephistopheles? What fun would that be? Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 21:00
  • @Malvolio - I loved that flick. There was a wonderful little scene in a jail cell that acts as the central point of the entire movie.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 13:48
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    I disagree with @Malvolio in that the emphasis is usually on the idea that you're making a short-term, "sexy" gain, at the cost of a long-term loss. The loss is so large that only extreme greed (or other character flaw) would tempt you to make the deal. This is the sense in which the OP's quote is made: when the system runs, it runs fast, but it crashes a lot which interrupts the program and loses the progress you had made.
    – Wayne
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 20:05

Making a deal with the devil, the price is most often your soul. Beware of it. In an ordinary sense, it entails undertaking a difficult task to the detriment of other, perhaps more important things.

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    Although a terrible question (because Googling "Faustian bargain" tells you the answer) your answer adds nothing that the existing one contains.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 10:45
  • @TripeHound, did google tell the same in 2011 for non-native speakers of english? For example, wiktinoary has this only from 2012 en.wiktionary.org/w/…
    – osgx
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 11:32
  • @osgx I didn't check then (:-)), but Dictionary.com's entry is copyrighted 2005 and the Wikipedia page on Faust goes back to at least 2002. I find it hard to believe that some source wouldn't have given the meaning in 2011.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 11:47
  • Two comments: (1) "Faust" is also German for "fist, clenched hand"--which may be of significance. "Mephistopheles" (2) "Mephistopheles" was really what we might call a "stinker". It's not a coincidence that the scientific name of the skunk is Mephitis mephitis.
    – tautophile
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 16:10

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