It is better to choose the safer option than the riskier one, because if you decide to go with the riskier option, then you may later regret it.
Example: Dale was going on a bike ride with his friend, but he didn’t want to wear a helmet because he thought it made him look silly. His friend insisted that he wear one, as it would protect him in the case of him falling and landing on his head. After listening to his friend’s advice, Dale reconsidered and decided to wear the helmet. “Good choice; better safe than sorry,” his friend said.
Origin of ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’
As the saying goes, better safe than sorry! Sadly, though, people do not always choose the safer option when it is available. For example, when leaving the house, some people decide to leave their doors unlocked. “I live in a good neighborhood, it’ll probably be fine,” they think to themselves. But how would they feel if they came back to a burglarized home? No doubt they would regret not taking an extra few seconds to lock the door.
What about driving? Some people decide not to wear a seat belt when they go out. “I’m a safe driver, I’ll be okay,” they reason to themselves. But what if another car swerves into them? The collision could send them flying through the wind shield. As they’re recovering in the hospital, do you think they are sorry for not choosing the better, safer option of wearing the seat belt? I would hope so.
Anyways, this expression appears in print as early as the mid-19th century, so it doesn’t look to be that old. This example comes from Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, Feburary 1859:
“Both parties during the first innings, played with great caution, having the motto in view, ‘better safe than sorry,’ and both sides were fully determined not to give more chance than they could help.”
It was also used in Eliza Cook’s Journal, December 1851, but the word “safe” was replaced with “sure”:
“We lnaded at the rude jetty, rather hurriedly as the boatmen seemed to think, for one of them exclaimed: ‘Aisy, aisy, Sir! better be sure than sorry,’—a good maxim, worthy of being noted, like those of Captain Cuttle.”
And finally, its earliest appearance (that I could find) comes from The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, May 1847:
“He (Mr. N ) again begged it to be distinctly understood that what he had stated he merely threw out as a suggestion, considering that it was always better to be ‘safe than sorry.’ “
Here’s an example of this saying being used in a sentence:
- It’s better to be safe than sorry, so put on your seat belt before we take off.