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The proverb "More haste, less speed" apparently means:

You make better progress with a task if you don't try to do it too quickly. Oxford Dictionary

What is the difference betwen 'haste' and 'speed' in this case? According to the same dictionary, 'haste' means:

Excessive speed or urgency of movement or action

Yet if the proverb advocates more haste, surely this means even more excessive speed. Why should one use more haste, which seems counter-intuitive?

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    Another way of saying "Haste makes waste".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:48
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    See also the phrase, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 7:03
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    Slow and steady wins the race.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 11:12

3 Answers 3

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I have found this confusing too, so I looked it up.

The OED gives a number of sayings, and a number of forms of this expression, including

The more haste the lesse spede. [1546]

With more hast, then good spede, I brought it to an ende. [1556 - "then" means "than", I believe]

It seems to me from these that the meaning of the phrase, back in the sixteenth century was not "Make haste instead of speed", but "If you make more haste, the result will be less speed". I had never thought of it this way before, and I suspect that few people have.

So while the overall meaning of the proverb has survived, I now think that the understanding of the words has altered, and this is why you find it puzzling.

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  • So, no procrastination or rushing things at the end? Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:37
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    Well I suppose that might be a corollary. But it doesn't really talk about procrastination. It just says that if you rush, in the end it will take longer.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:41
  • Merriam-Webster adds two more definitions: "rash or headlong action" and "undue eagerness to act". Given this, I think yo're analysis is correct in that the real meaning is your 1546 example. Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:42
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    +1 That is how I have always interpreted the saying—it's a warning, not a suggestion.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 20:57
  • 'It seems to me from these that the meaning of the phrase, back in the sixteenth century was ...' ... exactly the same as it is now, surely? While your understanding may have been at odds with that I don't think it is fair to assume that most people's is.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 6:25
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The saying more haste, less speed is suggesting that a focus on speed is sometimes counter-productive.

Sometimes when we do things too quickly we make mistakes and have to do them a second time. In such cases we might have been finished sooner had we not made the first attempt in such a hurry.

Haste relates to the manner in which the work is carried out, speed relates to the overall time taken for the work. More haste causes a decrease in speed.

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  • Yes, I know what the idiom means, I was curious as to why haste was used, when it has a very similar meaning to speed. I was after more of an etymological answer (see Colin Fine's, above) Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:44
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    @marcellothearcane - "Speed" is an objective measure -- you can determine progress by measuring distance traveled, number of widgets produced, etc. "Haste", on the other hand, is observed in less objective "metrics" -- stuff splashed, dropped on the floor, wrong turns, etc.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:47
  • I added an extra sentence to my answer which may help. Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:49
  • Also, from your original question it wasn't clear that you did understand the idiom. You wrote "Yet if the proverb advocates more haste, ..." (which it doesn't). Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 19:53
  • @marcellothearcane The meaning isn't that similar. Per the definition you quote, the speed in haste is definitionaly excessive.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 6:22
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The expression does not actually advocate for more haste. Instead, it cautions against hasty action. It is essentially a condensed way of saying "the more hastily you do something, the longer it will take you to finish it".

This expression is memorable because it is an apparent paradox. If we take a basic understanding of the phrase, it simply claims that "faster is slower", which is clearly nonsense. The real meaning in the phrase comes from the connotations attached to the word "haste", and especially its derivatives such as "hasty" and "hastily". Often, these words have negative connotations attached to them which suggest that an action was not just performed quickly, but too quickly. The result is that details were missed or the end product is unacceptable, so extra effort must be expended in the end to make up for mistakes.

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