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Where did that phrase come from - Keep friends close but enemies closer
Stan St. Clair

Father’s Day doesn’t get as much attention as Mother’s Day. I heard recently on the radio that spending for men by their spouses and children is about half what it is on Mother’s Day. The same applies on Valentine’s Day. But I really think it needs to be that way, even though I am a father and husband.

Did your dad have a lot of sayings that he told you when you were growing up? Both of my parents did. That was no doubt the root of my interest in old sayings, proverbs and figurative expressions.

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” means that one should keep close tabs on anyone whom he or she suspects may turn against or betray him or her, whether a supposed friend or an admitted enemy. In keeping such folks close, a person may even have them feeling that they are considered friends and thus lull them into a false sense of security.

Claims of the origin of this cliché go back to Machiavelli in “The Prince,” published in 1515 and most commonly to Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC. He did say something similar in The Art of War:

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

But, it is actually a quote from Michael Corleone in “Godfather II” in 1974, attributing it to a saying of his dear old dad. 

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

Happy Father’s Day, all you dads!


If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.