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I’m trying to think of a phrase which means that being nice to people can be a better way than to be horrible and forceful to people. Can someone help me out?

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6 Answers 6

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The phrase you are looking for is “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar” and it was the subject of a previous question here on ELU.

Wiktionary defines the proverb well:

  • It is easier to persuade others [to get along / do something] with polite requests and a positive attitude rather than with rude demands and negativity.

Though the 'catch' sounds rather like you're setting a sinister trap, as with the nearby expression 'set a honey trap', nothing more than gentle persuasion is denoted.

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Sometimes the carrot works better than the stick.

carrot and stick.
COMMON If someone uses a carrot and stick method to make you do something, they try to make you do it, partly by offering you rewards and partly by threatening you. [...] Note: Carrot and stick are used in many other structures with a similar meaning.
Protests continued, however, so the authorities substituted the carrot for the stick. When the Security Council waves a stick at an offending country, the secretary-general can also offer a carrot as encouragement.
Note: The idea behind this expression is that an animal such as a donkey can be encouraged to move forward either by dangling a carrot in front of it or by hitting it with a stick. The carrot represents the tempting offer and the stick represents the threat.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

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"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar…"

or

"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." [Proverbs 15:1]

I'm not religious BTW

Mac

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A fairly well known idiom is ' the softly, softly approach'.

An interview with Ivana Trump on Good Morning Britain has raised a few eyebrows after the normally combative Piers Morgan adopted a softly-softly approach to questioning.

Huffington Post 15th January 2018


The original expression was 'softly, softly catchee monkey' coined in the late nineteenth century, meaning :

Proceed cautiously or gently to achieve an objective.


But the simplified expression seems to have a wider usage and a broader scope :

(British English, informal) a/the gentle, patient and careful way of doing something, especially when dealing with people: The police are now trying a more softly-softly approach with football

Free Dictionary


The Ngram of 'softly, softly' against 'catchee monkey' shows that the shortened expression is far more common.

It also seems to be more common in BrE than AmE.


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  • 'softly, softly catchee monkey' might be perceived as racist, as it seems to mock non-native English speakers (although it's not clear where it's from).
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 21 at 12:46
  • @StuartF There is no offensiveness documented in the etymology. See Ndànk-ndànk, mooy jàpp golo ci ñaay. In any case, as I note in the answer, that part of the saying has been dropped by later generations.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 21 at 13:02
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Bill has become so sensitive. You really have to handle him with kid gloves.

Also, treat with kid gloves.

Seems to be the opposite of:

Handle without mittens (or gloves): to treat without any superfluous politeness or gentleness; to attack vigorously [with example given from the North American Review, 1887]

The latter is apparently the origin of gloves are off.

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‘More bees are wooed by honey than by vinegar’

In a letter from the then Minister of Health

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    – Community Bot
    Commented May 21 at 11:44
  • This seems more appropriate if, as OP seems to suggest, you're trying to persuade someone to do something / relate harmoniously rather than trying to entrap them. But how idiomatic is it? Which 'then' is meant? Could you link to the quote? Commented May 21 at 11:46

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