What does the quote,

"If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door"

even mean?

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    It's perfectly clear English to me. What part is unclear to you? Please go into more detail, because otherwise this question may be closed as "unclear what you're asking". – JPmiaou Jan 19 '18 at 4:58
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    It may be worth noting that some years prior to that lecture, the writer Henry David Thoreau actually did build and live in a house in the woods (specifically, woods belonging to Emerson) and wrote a well-known book about it. – David K Jan 19 '18 at 5:43
  • Is your difficulty with the the world will make a beaten path to his door part? I can understand why this could cause you problems but the rest of it seems really obvious to me. – BoldBen Feb 9 '19 at 13:29

The meaning is pretty much what he writes. A short paraphrase is

If a person can do something better than others, then other people will seek them out.


If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap...

Those are just examples. He means in general if someone can do something well.

than his neighbour

than other people around him, not just those in his neighbourhood.

even if he builds his house in the woods

even though he lives somewhere remote and hard to get to

the world will make a beaten path to his door

people will put in a lot of effort to get to him. Specifically this refers to making a path through the wood, often done by beating down the shrubs and plants until they can be walked over.

It's worth noting that the phrase 'build a better mousetrap' has passed into the English language as a phrase meaning 'make something better than everyone else', thanks to this quote.


This wasn't actually ever said by Emerson - according to Wikepedia the actual quote is:

"If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Build_a_better_mousetrap,_and_the_world_will_beat_a_path_to_your_door

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    +1 for cool trivia .... But, please explain the meaning so it counts as an "answer" and not just a cool fact. – David M Oct 23 '19 at 17:50

He is basically saying that if you build something better then someone else or improve on a design that people will go out of their way to find you.

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    Hi Pablo, welcome to EL&U. Note, this site isn't a discussion forum. We expect answers to be authoritative and detailed. I'm not sure what your answer provides that hasn't already been explained, in more detail and in better English, in the other answer. You might like to review How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour to get a better sense of how our site works. :-) – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Feb 9 '19 at 11:58

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