Discretion is the Better Part of Valor – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone stop you from defending someone else’s honor? You could say, ‘discretion is the better part of valor.’ This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ means it is foolish to act heroically if the outcome could result in a disadvantage to you. It’s a way of telling someone their actions are in vain and will likely cause an adverse outcome they don’t expect.

The expression can refer to verbal or physical actions. For instance, you could stick up for a friend or stranger, but it ends with you being in trouble, hurt, or disgraced, despite your noble intentions.

Example Usage

“I know you want to stand up for the employee, but he’s in the wrong. Discretion is the better part of valor. You would be wise to think about it before you put your livelihood on the line for someone else.”

“Why are you defending them? Do you think they would do the same for you? Discretion is the better part of valor. Don’t stand up for something that could hurt you.”

“Look, I know you feel you must defend them, but discretion is the better part of valor. Rather sit on the sidelines and see how it plays out.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor. Stepping in to defend the other person isn’t the right thing to do. It’s going to get you in trouble.”

“I learned the hard way. I stepped into the situation to defend a stranger and got shot in the skirmish. Discretion is the better part of valor. Sometimes it’s better to step away and call the police.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor. You’ll learn that the hard way if you don’t stop yourself from taking that action. Trust me, you’re going to regret it.”

Origin

The expression’ discretion is the better part of valor’ originates from an iteration of the Shakespeare quote, ‘the better part of valor is discretion.’

The proverbial saying appears in the Shakespeare play, ‘Henry IV Part 1,’ in Act V Scene 4.

“To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying when a man thereby liveth is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life.”

Phrases Similar to Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

  • Caution is preferable to rash bravery.
  • Think before you act.
  • Self preservation.

Phrases Opposite to Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

  • Jump into the fire.
  • From the frying pan into the fire.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Discretion is the better part of valor.

Ways People May Say Discretion is the Better Part of Valor Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with the military or ‘stolen valor.’ Using it to describe military actions or bravery is incorrect. You’ll use the saying when people are defending other people or actions that could land them in trouble with other people.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

You can use the expression ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ when you want to warn someone that being brave or outlandish may end up in an adverse event they don’t expect. The phrase suits professional and social use.

Use it at work to describe how a colleague is getting themselves in trouble by defending someone on the team that violated company policies. If they don’t stop supporting the other person, it could result in them losing their job and being unable to provide for their family.

You could use it when a friend is defending someone they don’t know, despite the fact they may have done something wrong that could tarnish their name.

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