The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men – Meaning & Origin

Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you tried, things didn’t go your way? This is a feeling shared by many men and even metaphorical mice. Possibly literal mice, too. We don’t know their lives.

Let’s unpack the meaning and origin of the phrase that encompasses this feeling.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men – Meaning

The phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men” essentially means that no matter how well prepared one may feel, their plans may still fall apart due to circumstances outside of their control. It can be used in both formal and informal contexts.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men - Meaning

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”, as they say. And we suppose it’s true. The best way to ensure that your day goes smoothly is to plan ahead.

However, this technique isn’t foolproof. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, external forces outside of our control cause all of our plans to fall apart. This is a universal experience, felt by both mice and men.

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How to Use “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men” in a Sentence

The phrase should be used in a situation where, despite someone doing everything in their power to plan ahead, external forces have caused things to fall apart.

  • Person 1: I’ve been planning my wedding for three years, but the venue suddenly caught fire last week!
  • Person 2: How unfortunate! But there’s nothing you could have done. Sometimes, the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.

  • Person 1: We planned the entire trip, only for a bus strike to foil our transport plans.
  • Person 2: The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men – Origin

“The best laid plans of mice and men” comes from a poem entitled “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns. The expression was then popularized by the 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck.

In the poem “To a Mouse”, a farmer expresses regret after accidentally destroying a mouse’s nest while plowing. The farmer addresses the mouse directly and exclaims that he identifies with its plight.

Like the mouse with its nest, the farmer has seen his own “best laid plans” fall apart before his eyes.

Burns himself is often identified as the speaker or narrator of the poem. It can be suggested, therefore, that it was Burns himself who said this phrase first.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men – Similar Quotes

There are a number of quotes that express similar sentiments to “the best laid plans of mice and men”:

One is a popular Yiddish proverb:

  • We plan, God laughs.

Another is a quote by Neil Young:

  • The devil fools with the best laid plans.

Phrases That Mean the Opposite of “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men”

“The best laid plans of mice and men” suggests that we truly have no control over our lives despite how hard we try to take control through planning. The opposite of this would be any phrase that suggests that, through planning, we can achieve our pursuits.

  • An hour of planning can save you ten hours of doing. (Dale Carnegie)
  • There are dreamers and there are planners; the planners make their dreams come true. (Edwin Louis Cole)
  • Failing to plan is planning to fail. (Alan Lakein)

Correct Ways to Say “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men”

It is correct to quote this phrase in full or to use a shortened version:

  • The best laid schemes of mice and men/gang aft agley.

This is the original quote from “To a Mouse” in Scots-language. It can be used when quoting the poem.

  • The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
  • The best laid plans of mice and men.
  • The best laid plans.

Incorrect Ways to Use “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men”

The phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men” does not mean that men and mice were working together on a plan. It should not be used to suggest this.

  • Clarence and his pet mice were working on a new dress for fashion week, but I’m afraid it didn’t work out. They kept accidentally eating their materials. The best laid plans of mice and men, you know.

In What Situations Can You Use “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men”?

You can use the phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men” when something in your life, or the life of someone else, has not worked out as planned.

The phrase can be used to comfort someone by suggesting that when things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean anyone is to blame. Sometimes, life is simply unfair, and plans fall apart.