Honesty Is the Best Policy – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you hoping to give someone who struggling with a moral dilemma some advice? You could tell them that "honesty is the best policy". Learn more about the meaning and origins of this idiom, as well as how to use it, in this post.


The idiom "honesty is the best policy" is one with a literal and unambiguous meaning — the saying is used to mean that it is best to be honest.

Honesty has two distinct meanings:

  • To tell the truth.
  • To live an upright, moral life, and not to turn to crime.

The idiom "honesty is the best policy" can refer to both senses of honesty.

​​Example Usage

Would you like to see how the saying "honesty is the best policy" can be put into action? These example sentences illustrate how the phrase is used in practice:

  • "I accidentally left the store with peanut butter I hadn't paid for, so I went back to make up for my error. You know what they say; honesty is the best policy."
  • "Of course you should let your friend know how you feel about her tendency to gossip. Honesty is always the best policy."
  • "Believing honesty to be the best policy, he was always blunt and direct, no matter whose feelings were hurt in the process."


The proverb "honesty is the best policy" has been in use since the early seventeenth century.

It is important to note that the meaning of the phrase has shifted somewhat over time:

  • A "policy" now means a formal approach to governance. While it is often used to refer to political decisions, it can also refer to a set of rules adopted by a business or group.
  • When the phrase "honesty is the best policy" first came into use, on the other hand, "policy" could mean a stratagem, trick, code of conduct, or even shrewdness.

The proverb "honesty is the best policy", therefore, originally meant something more like "honesty is the best strategy".

One of the earliest examples of the idiom in a published text came from Sir Edwin Sandys, a politician who was part of the earliest Jamestown settlers. He wrote, in 1599 (at which time English spelling had not yet been standardized: "Our grosse conceipts, who think honestie the best policie."

Today, the phrase "honesty is the best policy" can be used simply to say that you think it is better to be honest than to tell a lie — regardless of the consequences.

Phrases Similar to Honesty Is the Best Policy

Instead of "honesty is the best policy", you could also decide to say:

  • The truth always comes out in the end — meaning that lies are eventually revealed, and implying that it is therefore better to be honest.
  • Lay your cards on the table — inviting someone to speak frankly, without hiding anything.
  • Honest men fear neither the light nor the dark — indicating that honest people need not be scared.

Phrases Opposite to Honesty Is the Best Policy

Do you believe that lying can sometimes be the best course of action? You might prefer these idioms:

  • To tell a white lie — meaning a harmless lie, told to be polite.
  • To stretch the truth (or to bend the truth) — to lie just a little.
  • To lie like a tombstone — lying without any remorse.

​What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying is "honesty is the best policy". It means that telling the truth and living a moral life is the best choice.

​​Ways People May Say Honesty Is the Best Policy Incorrectly

The idiom "honesty is the best policy" is hard to use incorrectly, as it does not make use of metaphors.

​​Acceptable Ways to Phrase Honesty Is the Best Policy

You can use the phrase "honesty is the best policy" to tell someone who has not been completely honest to make up for their misstep by telling the truth now.

You could also advise someone to be honest, even if it means hurting another's feelings, by using the idiom "honesty is the best policy".

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