Keep Your Friends Close and Enemies Closer – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to warn someone to pay attention to the people around them? If so, you could use the proverbial saying, “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” means that you need to keep an eye on your enemies. It means that you need to take the same care in watching the actions and intentions of your enemies as much as those of your friends.

We all keep our friends close to us. However, by keeping our enemies closer, we can stay ahead of their moves against us. The saying has mafia origins, and that makes sense since most of us don’t have enemies in our lives.

However, the saying can mean that you need to pay attention to people in your social circle that could potentially do you harm. It’s another way of saying that the worst attacks on our safety sometimes come from within our friendships and family.

Example Usage

“I can’t believe Greg would do that to me after all these years. I’ve known that guy since kindergarten, and now this? I guess it’s true when they say keep your friends closer and your enemies closer.”

“We need to stay on top of what the enemy is doing in battle. Make sure the satellites are viewing their location 24/7. Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.”

“Why are you hanging around those guys? I thought you hated that group of people? Or is it one of those keep your friends close and enemies closer type of deals?”

“Those mob movies are great. I love how it’s always someone on the inside that brings them down. Now I see what they mean when they say  keep your friends close and enemies closer.”

“I was watching Goodfellas last night, and you can see how Ray Liotta’s character keeps Joe Pesci’s at a distance. Keep your friends close and enemies closer.”

Origin

The expression “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” originates from the business world. Language experts are unsure of the exact origin of the phrase.

However, it’s thought that it comes from the 1970s era of business where companies would create hostile takeovers of each other management structures.

Some experts believe the first record of the saying comes from Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather Part II.” In the movie, Michael discusses his father’s knowledge imparted to him. He says the following line.

“My father taught me many things here. He taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

Phrases Similar to Keep Your Friends Close and Enemies Closer

  • Keep your head on a swivel.
  • Keep your guard up.
  • Verify first, trust later.

Phrases Opposite to Keep Your Friends Close and Enemies Closer

  • Trust everyone.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Ways People May Say Keep Your Friends Close and Enemies Closer Incorrectly

The phrase doesn’t mean that you should keep your friends or enemies in close physical proximity to you. It means that you should pay attention to the behavior of your friends more than your enemies. Attacks or acts of mistrust usually come from the people you least expect, like your friends and family.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Keep Your Friends Close and Enemies Closer

You can use the phrase, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” when trying to tell people not to trust anyone. They may be in a situation where relying on other people could cause them harm. Many people use the saying after they experience someone close to them betraying their trust.

The phrase suits use in social conversations, and it can have different levels of severity attached to the meaning. It’s a somewhat negative and somber saying, meaning that we can’t trust anyone in life and should keep to ourselves.

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