Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to reserve their first impression of someone or something? If so, you could use the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The meaning of the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” refers to holding back on formulating your impression of someone after meeting them for the first time.

The phrase means that you shouldn’t judge someone’s character by their appearance but rather by their actions.

Example Usage

“I know people tell me not to judge a book by its cover, but that guy over there looks like a real piece of human garbage.”

“That guy seemed pretty self-absorbed when I met him, but I guess I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover; you never know what the person is like until you spend some time with them.”

“I know your cousin seems like a bit of a hard head. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Give it some time, and I’m sure you will be the best of friends.”

“I started watching that series on Netflix last night. It was pretty slow and boring. I suppose I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Maybe I’ll give the second episode a go tonight.”

Origin

The origin of the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” comes from George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss,” published in 1860. The phrase is not the modern version, but it lays the groundwork for the idiom.

In the novel, the character of Mr. Tulliver uses it when discussing “The History of the Devil” by Daniel Defoe.

“and there‘s a lot more of ’em, sermons mostly, I think, but they‘ve all got the same covers, and I thought they were all o’ one sample, as you may say. But it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside. This is a puzzlin’ world.”

The modern version of the phrase first appears in “Murder in the Glass Room,” a 1946 murder mystery written by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller. The term appears as the following in the book.

“You can never tell a book by its cover.”

Phrases Similar to Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

  • Appearances are often misleading.
  • Looks are deceiving.

Phrases Opposite to Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

  • Take it at face value.
  • First impressions count.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Ways People May Say It Incorrectly

The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” does not refer to the physical condition of books or the images on hardcover book sleeves. It’s a way of telling someone not to judge someone else by their first impression.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase It

You can use the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” in social and professional settings. The expression can describe people or objects, and it tells people to reserve their judgment from their first impression.

For instance, the HR manager could feel unimpressed by a candidate. However, the retail manager tells them not to judge a book by its cover because they think they have talent. Your friend could tell you not to judge a book by its cover when you meet someone new for the first time.

The saying can apply to negative and positive connotations. For instance, you could say, “never judge a book by its cover” because you don’t know if the person is s serial killer or a genuine character.

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