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I remember that once upon a time I heard the expression "content is better than...", which means that real inside content is better than superficial outside appearance.

But I couldn't remember the "..." in "content is better than...".

Can you fill in the missing word?

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    Well, there is always "You can't judge a book by its cover." – Hot Licks Jul 25 '15 at 12:38
  • We also have "substance over form". – TRomano Jul 25 '15 at 12:43
  • Have you googled the fragment? – Kris Jul 25 '15 at 16:11
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'Content is better than riches' (Chinese proverb):

Source: China.com

The proverb is also seen written as: 'Contentment is better than riches', the first recorded citation being in 1566

Source: A Dictionary of American Proverbs. New York: OUP,1992

The saying may have originated from the Bible (New Testament):

'But godliness with contentment is great gain.' 1 Timothy 6:6, KJB

  • I'm very sure that content is not the content being discussed here. – Kris Jul 25 '15 at 16:11
  • For instance, I'm a content writer who's never content. – Kris Jul 25 '15 at 16:12
  • @Kris what makes you so sure your opinion is the correct one? – Julie Carter Jul 25 '15 at 16:30
  • Did I say? You may need to re-read your answer :) – Kris Jul 26 '15 at 11:00
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    It's what's inside that counts. – ewormuth Aug 2 '15 at 15:19
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Google Books searches reveal various competing expressions that begin with "content is better than"—including ones that refer to each of the two main senses of content: "contentment" and "substance."


'Content' as contentment

By far the most common of these aphorisms is the one that Julie Carter identifies in her answer:

Content is better than riches [or wealth].

According to W. Gurney Benham, A Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words (1907), this sentiment is sometimes expressed more grandly as

The greatest wealth is contentment with a little.

James Moffat, A New Translation of the Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments (1954) contrasts content not with riches but with toil:

Still, one handful of content is better than two hands full of toil and futile effort.

And Thomas Holcroft, The Noble Peasant: A Comic Opera, in Three Acts (1784) has this, spoken by a character from whom homilies spout like water from a bubbling fountain:

Content is better than a down-bed, and the stars will be obeyed.


'Content' as substance

We also have this completely different expression (though its status as a proverb is iffy):

Content is better than form.

The earliest Google Books match for this last expression appears in Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Common Schools of Pennsylvania (1900). Google Books finds multiple instances of it over the next decade, but all of them are quoting the same commentary on the proper way to teach literature. Nevertheless it seems more relevant than the others to the OP's request for a saying that distinguishes between substance (content) and superficial appearance (here, form).

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