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The meaning and origin of the expression: Too many cooks spoil the broth

Too many cooks spoil the broth

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Too many cooks spoil the broth'?

This proverbial saying conveys the notion that the more people who are involved in a process the worse the result. It uses the imagery of many cooks adding ingredients to a soup until it becomes a mess.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Too many cooks spoil the broth'?

Too many cooks spoil the broth'Too many cooks spoil the broth' is an old proverb and one that has lasted unchanged for centuries.

Recent research appears to confirm the truth it conveys.

Evidence against 'too many cooks spoil the broth'.

In 1907 the English statistician Sir Francis Galton observed a contest in which villagers attempted to guess the weight of an ox. He found that the more people who made a guess the nearer the average guess came to the correct answer. His work, which he entitled 'The Wisdom of Crowds', was later taken up in various fields to aim to provide more accurate forecasts by using more people.

Evidence in favour of 'too many cooks spoil the broth'.

In 2014, Princeton University published research to counter Galton's influence. They found that, in the complex world of business, deciding on the correct strategy was hindered rather than aided by the involvement of more people.

In the 1970s the American computer scientist Fred Brooks wrote an essay entitled The Mythical Man Month. He argued that, contrary to apparent intuition, adding more personnel to a project that was overdue would slow it down even further rather than speeding it up. His work became widely accepted in business and is still influential.

The origin of 'too many cooks benefit the broth'.

In 1575, the English historian John Hooker wrote The Life and Times of Sir Peter Carew. In that he included the line:

There is the proverb, the more cooks the worse potage.

If Hooker considered the notion proverbial in 1575 it must be one of the earliest proverbs that are still with us today in their early form.

Hooker was something of a Carew wannabe and erected a monument to him in Exeter Cathedral.

Too many cooks spoil the brothIncidentally, and for no better reason that I like the name, I'll mention that Carew's tomb is just a few paces from another notable commemorative in the cathedral - the memorial to the English cleric Nutcombe Nutcombe.

Apparently you can have too many cooks but, as far as the reverend's parents were concerned, you can't have too many Nutcombes.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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