Familiarity Breeds Contempt – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did you meet someone a few months ago? At the time, they might seem like a nice person. However, after spending a few weeks with them, you might change your opinion about them. If that’s the case, you could say that the idiom “familiarity breeds contempt” applies to the situation.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the meaning and origin of this idiomatic expression.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt Meaning

Familiarity breeds contempt” means that the more you get to know someone, the less you like them and their personality or behavior. When we meet people, we have little opinion on them than what we formulate with our first impression.

Unfortunately, first impressions tell you little about the person’s character and personality, other than the “mask” they show you. The person might seem great when you first meet them, but after a few months of hanging around with them and spending time together, you realize that you don’t like the person.

The phrase could also refer to someone revealing secrets that you find appalling or shocking, revealing hidden aspects of their character you didn’t know were there. As a result, you end up experiencing feelings of resentment towards them.

Familiarity breeds contempt” can also apply to systems and inanimate objects. For instance, your car or your job could also be an appropriate use of the phrase. In that case, you would enjoy your job or car for the first few weeks, but when the novelty wears off, you could start feeling resentment toward it.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt Example Usage

“John and Angela split after two weeks, they discovered that familiarity breeds contempt, and they didn’t have anything in common with each other.”

“After getting to know my sister’s husband, I don’t think I’ll be spending much time around them. You know, familiarity breeds contempt.”

“I worked hard for the company expecting a raise or promotion in the future. However, after seeing how they treat the other employees and me, I’m ready to resign. It’s true what they say; familiarity breeds contempt.”

“I know so much about that group that I’m starting to hate them all. Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Familiarity Breeds Contempt Origin

The origin of “familiarity breeds contempt” comes from the English author Chaucer in the late 1300s. Chaucer penned the work “Tale of Melibee” in 1386, where the phrase would debut in the following excerpt from the book.

Men syen that ‘over-greet hoomlynesse [familiarity] engendreth dispreisynge.‘”

The old English translation refers to “familiarity breeds contempt.” Some language experts suggest the phrase was already circulating in English culture before Chaucer used it for his book. The term went on the entrench itself in modern language, and it still has plenty of use today.

Phrases Similar to Familiarity Breeds Contempt

  • Never meet your heroes.

Phrases Opposite to Familiarity Breeds Contempt

  • Close at heart.
  • Better than expected.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Familiarity breeds contempt.

Ways People May Say Familiarity Breeds Contempt Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with the act of breeding and nothing to do with raising animals. It’s a way of saying that you might have one impression of a person, and it’s totally wrong when you get to know them.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Familiarity Breeds Contempt

You can use the phrase “familiarity builds contempt” to describe how getting closer to someone or something didn’t work out as expected. If you start a relationship enjoying the person’s company

and drift apart as you get to know each other, it’s safe to say that “familiarity builds contempt,” and it was the cause for the failure of the marriage.

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