What Does Familiarity Breeds Contempt Mean?

Familiarity Breeds Contempt Meaning

Definition: The longer one knows someone, the more likely that he or she will discover negative things about the other person.

This can also apply to things. If a person does something for a long time, he or she might grow to dislike or hate it.

Origin of Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The idea behind this expression has been around for thousands of years. In ancient Rome, the writer Publilius used the expression. Over a thousand years later, Pope Innocent III repeated the expression.

The English writer Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to use this expression. It appeared in his work Tale of Melibee, in the 1300s.

Examples of Familiarity Breeds Contempt

too much familiarity breeds contempt meaningTwo friends are talking about their unique friendship.

Kira: Recently, I’ve been thinking about how long we’ve been friends. I think you’re my oldest friend!

Dan: Wow, really?

Kira: Yeah. Usually I like people a lot at first, but the longer I know them, the more I discover bad aspects of their personality.

Dan: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess that’s why they say that familiarity breeds contempt.

Kira: Well, I’m glad it doesn’t apply to the two of us! I still like you after all these years.

familiarity breeds contempt originThe following example involves two women talking about the book club meeting they just attended.

Gertrude: That meeting was such a disaster.

Ruby: I agree! It was a huge mess. These book club meetings used to be so much fun! Everyone had great ideas, and I loved sharing my own thoughts about the novels we were reading. I’m not sure why it seems like everyone is unhappy recently.

Gertrude: We have been doing these meetings for a long time. Maybe it’s because familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe we are all just sick and tired of seeing each other every week.

Ruby: Maybe you’re right. Maybe we need to take a break.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a sports rivalry.

  • Familiarity breeds contempt, and the Jets and Patriots — who have battled one another since 1960— are no exception. –New York Daily News

This excerpt is about the public perception of politicians.

  • If familiarity breeds contempt, especially among one’s critics, remember that Clinton has been a national figure for 25 years; when Obama ran, he’d been one for less than three. –USA Today

Summary

The phrase familiarity breeds contempt is another way to say that as time goes on, people have more time to learn things they dislike about other people or things.