I have searched the web and found out that the proverbial sentence the corruption of the best is the worst of all has some Latin roots:

  • Corruptio optimi pessima.

Which apparantly is prevalent in English (possibly in the US)!

Please let me know the meaning and usage of these phraees; also, please tell me if they are in common use or not?

2 Answers 2


There are a number of Latin phrases which are common in English, such as Caesar's famous veni, vidi, vici ("I came, I saw, I conquered") or cum hoc ergo propter hoc ("Correlation does not imply causation"). or Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? ("Who watches the watchmen?"), as well as innumerable medical and legal terms. However your example is not one of these -- or at least, I've never heard it before.

The meaning is fairly straightforward, although I don't know if the sentiment is really all that common among English speakers. It's hard to know what the original intent of the phrase was. I think it's more to be cynical and rejoice in the downfall of the most notable, e.g.

How far the mighty have fallen!


The higher they climb, the harder they fall.

The key word in this phrase is "corruption", which has several definitions:

corruption (n):
1. dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery; the action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so
2. the process by which something, typically a word or expression, is changed from its original use or meaning to one that is regarded as erroneous or debased

So it's not clear if the Latin phrase means

the act of corrupting otherwise honest men and women of power by *external forces


the inevitable internal corruption that happens as otherwise good people embrace unethical means to achieve what they think are good results

It would seem to be the second, but it's not clear what specifically is mentioned as the cause. Which is another way of saying it's open to debate, and you're welcome to present an argument for a different interpretation.

  • Agreed that it's a little ambiguous. I also haven't heard the phrase before today. My initial thought was that it meant "The corruption of the best [thing] is the worst of all [possible things]." For example, the corruption of the kindest people on the planet would be the worst possible thing to happen. Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 5:52

In Persian, we have this phrase “Whatever rots and becomes moldy, they salt it. Woe to the day when the salt rots” If corruption occurs in the lower classes of governments, they can be complained to higher authorities. Now, if corruption occurs in the upper classes of governments, who can be sued!!!

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