The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you ready for that vacation? As you arrive at the airport, you find that all the airlines canceled flights, and your vacation isn’t going to happen. If that’s the case, you could say “the best laid plans of mice and men” to describe the situation.

This post unpacks the meaning, origin, and use of this expression.

Meaning

If someone says “the best laid plans of mice and men,” they are telling you that things don’t always work out as you expect. It means that no matter how much you plan for something, there are always extenuating circumstances that may cause a shift in your planning.

You can use the phrase in social and professional settings. At home, the term could apply to your vacation plans or buying a home at a great deal. It could mean that someone or something derails your career trajectory at work, and now you have to find another route to the top.

It’s more common to hear people use the shortened version of this expression, “best laid plans.”

Example Usage

Tim: “We’re planning on heading to the show this weekend, but I heard the government might lock us down again. Now what?”

James: “You know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men.”

“I was planning to go to the lake this weekend, but Yannis says he has to work. Oh well, the best laid plans of mice and men.”

“We were aiming for a million subs on our YouTube channel by the end of the month, but that didn’t happen. You know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men.”

Origin

The origin of the expression, “the best laid plans of mice and men,” comes from the Burns poem, “to a mouse.” The passage in the poem reads as follows.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley.”

Translating this into modern English, we come up with the following.

The best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong.”

Gang aft-a-gley” means “goes wrong.” The phrase would reach popular adoption with the publishing of the 1937 novel “Of Mice and Men,” written by John Steinbeck. The message in the story says that whatever plans you make, and however careful your preparations, things will likely never go as you expect, resulting in failure or disaster.

Phrases Similar to The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

  • Things fall apart.
  • Sometimes everything seems like it’s going wrong.
  • No matter what you do, nothing works.

Phrases Opposite to The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

  • Everything is on schedule.
  • The itinerary is on track.
  • We’re making it happen.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The best laid plans of mice and men.
  • Best laid plans.

Ways People May Say The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Incorrectly

The phrase refers to things not going as planned. It has nothing to do with relationships between men and mice. To use the term to refer to actions of people or mice is the incorrect use of the phrase.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

You can use the phrase “best laid plans of mice and men” when you’re trying to describe that your plans or ideas didn’t work out as expected. It’s a common phrase, but most people use the shortened variation of “best laid plans,” and it carries the same meaning as the original phrase.

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