Antje (dieastra) wrote in linguaphiles,

Comparing proverbs

I loved very much our other discussion, and I just came across something else which might be equally interesting to discuss. I love to compare proverbs and have found a few which mean the same thing, but are totally different described in different languages.

Maybe we would like to collect a few? Here are some from the top of my head:

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink!" would in German probably be: "You can't carry a dog to the hunt" (Man kann einen Hund nicht zum Jagen tragen).

Or how about "The straw that broke the camel's back" would be "The drop that made the barrel flow over" (Der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen brachte).

Or "Two birds with one stone" would be "Two flies with one swat" (Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen).

Or "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" would be "Better to have the sparrow in the hand than the dove at the roof" (Besser den Spatz in der Hand als die Taube auf dem Dach)

Do you know more from your language?
Tags: fun, idioms
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  • 79 comments

helenadax

March 4 2014, 21:15:28 UTC 7 months ago

In Spanish it's "the drop that made the glass flow over" (la gota que colma el vaso), "to kill two birds with one shot" (matar dos pájaros de un tiro) and "better to have the bird in the hand than one hundred (birds) flying" (Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando).

dieastra

March 4 2014, 21:20:11 UTC 7 months ago

Wow, very interesting! They are kinda alike and yet different! I like especially the third one, very poetic.

cafecomics

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

helenadax

7 months ago

khe12

March 4 2014, 21:25:47 UTC 7 months ago

In Russian "Two birds with one stone" would be "убить двух зайцев одним выстрелом" - "to kill two hares with one shot".
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" - "Лучше синица в руке, чем журавль в небе" ("a titmouse in hand is worth a crane in the sky")
"The straw that broke the camel's back" - just "the last drop", "последняя капля".

dieastra

March 4 2014, 21:39:18 UTC 7 months ago

Большое спасибо!
I really love how the things that get killed are different in each country, obviously depending on which animals are available there. And your titmouse and crane are so much more poetic than my simple sparrow and dove!

PS: I'm from former Eastern Germany, I learnt 5 years of Russian in school.

khe12

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

khe12

7 months ago

barush

March 4 2014, 21:43:07 UTC 7 months ago

The last two would be the same in Czech as in German. I wonder if we took it from German, since there always has been a huge German influence in the Czech lands, hm. Anyways, interesting idea :)

dieastra

March 4 2014, 23:01:20 UTC 7 months ago

Very interesting! And yeah, must be. That border got changed a bit over the centuries, people don't suddenly start to speak a different language just because they live on the other side of the border.

rirakkumiru

March 4 2014, 22:09:28 UTC 7 months ago

This is more of an expression in English "if it had been a snake it would've bit you" (you were looking for something that was close by). Japanese say 灯台もと暗し which means "the bottom of the lighthouse is dark (get it? You can't see it if it's right under you).

dieastra

March 4 2014, 22:20:49 UTC 7 months ago

Aaah! That's a very interesting one! Isn't it also a bit similar meaning like "can't see the wood for the trees"? We have the same in German as well. With the wood, I mean. "Man kann den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen".

As for the snake and someone looking and not finding the obvious, in our family we say "well, if it isn't jumping at you..." but I don't know if that is a general expression.

conuly

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

orange_fell

March 4 2014, 22:13:59 UTC 7 months ago

I thought it was hilarious when i learned that the equivalent French idiom for the English "I have other fish to fry" (meaning "I have other things to do") was "I have other cats to whip!" ("J'ai d'autres chats à fouetter!")

conuly

March 4 2014, 22:52:56 UTC 7 months ago

Well, that's one way to skin a cat. Huh, it seems you can't swing a cat in here without abusing animals via proverb!

dieastra

7 months ago

conuly

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

rheasilvia

7 months ago

5x6

7 months ago

palimpsiesta

March 5 2014, 00:06:18 UTC 7 months ago

In Maltese:

'A leopard cannot change its spots' is 'Those who are born round do not die square' (Min jitwieled tond ma jmutx kwadru).
'A person is known by the company he keeps' is 'I likened you to those I saw you with' (Ma' min rajtek xebbahtek).
'A stitch in time saves nine' is 'Measure a hundred times, and cut once' (Qis mitt darba u aqta' darba).

Here are some Maltese proverbs without an English translation:

ID-DBIELET TWAL IKARKRU T-TRAB, IMMA D-DBIELET QOSRA JKARKRU L-ERWIEH.
Long skirts sweep away dust, but short skirts sweep away souls.

FEJN THOBB IL-QALB JIMXU R-RIGLEJN.
Where the heart loves, there the feet will walk.

IL-MEWT ISSEWWI KOLLOX.
Death rights everything.

IL-LIGI MHUX GHAS-SINJUR.
The law is not made for the rich man to follow.

conuly

March 5 2014, 00:12:23 UTC 7 months ago

In English, we say measure twice and cut once. Are you sure that's not the closer proverb than "a stitch in time"?

palimpsiesta

7 months ago

rheasilvia

7 months ago

palimpsiesta

7 months ago

rheasilvia

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

lareinemisere

March 5 2014, 00:09:53 UTC 7 months ago

English has "Birds of a feather flock together" to suggest that you can tell something about a person's character from the company (s)he keeps. The French equivalent, which I use as the header for my friends page, is "Qui se ressemble, s'assemble", which translates roughly to "those who resemble each other gather together" (although you lose the rhyme in that translation).

On a semi-related note, as I studied some law, there is a statutory interpretation term, ''noscitur a sociis" which is often taught as the principle that 'a word is known by the company it keeps'. I don't actually know Latin, but ISTR being told it literally translates "It is known by its neighbours'. (Any passing Latinists are invited to confirm or deny this...)

conuly

March 5 2014, 00:13:43 UTC 7 months ago

In our mother goose book we have (one of them, anyway) there is more to birds of a feather. Let's see....

Birds of a feather flock together
And so do pigs and swine.
Rats and mice will have their choice
And I have mine.

rheasilvia

7 months ago

mushroomesque

March 5 2014, 01:06:27 UTC 7 months ago

In Japanese, "two birds with one stone" is exactly the same! 一石二鳥 (isseki nichou). "A bird in the hand" has an apparently very literal and non-animal version, "50 today over 100 tomorrow." 明日の百より今日の五十 (ashita no hyaku yori kyou no gojuu)

dieastra

March 20 2014, 18:03:23 UTC 7 months ago

"50 today over 100 tomorrow" is very interesting. It resembles a self-made one by my mother: "I know what I have, what I'll get I don't know"

I'm not sure I can decide which is the right way though. If I knew for certain I would get 100 (dollars or whatever) if I just waited for it one day, I would patiently do that! I recently read about them doing patience tests with children. They either could eat one piece of chocolate right now, or wait half an hour and then get several pieces. Those that were able to wait, were also better when they grew up, as being patient did help them cope with several things.

muckefuck

March 5 2014, 01:39:08 UTC 7 months ago

There used to be a lovely site called Wikiproverb, but it appears not to exist any more. (At least nothing is loading when I type in that URL.)

demarafis

March 5 2014, 03:33:27 UTC 7 months ago

It moved to wikiproverbs.com, which expired on the 2nd of March and was renewed on the 3rd. I reckon since there was a break in domain registration, it may take a day or two for the domain redirection to work again.

In the mean time, there's the Wayback Machine?

http://web.archive.org/web/20130403045928/http://www.wikiproverbs.com/

demarafis

March 5 2014, 04:23:38 UTC 7 months ago

I've forgotten a lot of Chinese proverbs and idioms, unfortunately. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink!" does remind me of this idiom:

对牛弹琴

It literally translates to "playing music (playing a stringed instrument) for a buffalo." This proverb comes from an incident during the Warring Era in ancient China (476/403 BCE - 221CE).

It is said that back then, there lived a famous musician named Gong Ming Yi (公明仪) . He could compose and perform, and he play the 7-stringed qin (a long, horizontal plucked stringed instrument) very well. His songs are elegant and moving, therefore many people liked to listen to his performances and respected him.

Gong Ming Yi didn't only like to perform indoors - when the weather was pleasant, he also liked to bring his qin to the countryside to play. One day, when he was out in the countryside, the spring wind was blowing softly and the willow branches were swaying gently and there was a yellow buffalo with its head bowed, eating grass. Gong Ming Yi was struck with inspiration so he laid his qin down, plucked the strings, and performed his most elegant piece for the buffalo - Qing Jiao Zhi Cao. The old yellow buffalo wasn't moved to tears - it kept on eating grass.

Gong Ming Yi thought the piece might have been too elegant, so he switched songs and played a simple tune. The old yellow buffalo had no reaction again and kept on chewing grass unhurriedly. Gong Ming Yi played his best piece with all of his artistic might. This time, the old yellow buffalo swished its tail randomly to drive away flies, and continued to eating grass soundlessly with its head bowed.

Then, the old yellow buffalo slowly left - to eat grass at another patch.

Gong Ming Yi was very disappointed that the old yellow buffalo was never moved to tears. People told him, "Don't be angry! It wasn't because your songs weren't good, it was because your music didn't match the cow's ears!" So Gong Ming Yi could only sigh and return home with his qin. It was self-found no fun (It was an unfulfilling action).

Henceforth, 对牛弹琴 is used by people to describe someone who lacks logic or who is unreceptive, making it is useless to speak to that person.

(Translated from http://www.baike.com/wiki/%E5%85%AC%E6%98%8E%E4%BB%AA section 公明仪 - 人物典故)

I'm sorry I don't remember any others. I hope you enjoyed the story above!

rheasilvia

March 5 2014, 11:12:19 UTC 7 months ago

This is very similar to the German "Perlen vor die Säue werfen" - or throwing pearls before swine, in the English version. Wasting something precious on those who cannot appreciate it because of their low nature.

conuly

7 months ago

rheasilvia

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

mack_the_spoon

March 5 2014, 04:33:54 UTC 7 months ago

Man, I wish I hadn't forgotten a bunch of Lao proverbs, because there were some fun ones.

But I do remember that the tiny Mon-Khmer language I'm learning has an interesting equivalent for the English "the apple of one's eye": "one's middle finger" - to refer to a person the speaker is especially fond of. (I haven't yet told our teacher that in N. America, the middle finger has decidedly *not* positive connotations...)

dieastra

March 20 2014, 17:54:48 UTC 7 months ago

It's "Augapfel" - apple of one's eye - in German as well!

Very interesting about the middle finger. I also read somewhere that when you form thumb and forefinger to a circle, in some parts of the world this means "Okay" while in others it means asshole. I think this is why discussions like this are so important. You might say/do something and not mean any harm and get a bad reaction back and have no idea why, and you don't even know why the other is offended.

mack_the_spoon

7 months ago

amaia

March 5 2014, 05:06:27 UTC 7 months ago

My favorite is the Japanese equivalent of "shutting the gate after the horse has bolted" - 屁をひって尻窄め "clenching your butt after you fart"

dieastra

March 20 2014, 17:58:35 UTC 7 months ago

You are right, this is indeed a finny one *sniggers"

quarryquest

March 5 2014, 10:05:10 UTC 7 months ago

This is a really interesting conversation (I am going to print it out to give to the language teachers where I work).

I would also ask if anyone can give me their language's equivalent of version of our British 'drop a clanger'.

Apparently a 'clanger' was a sort of long thin pie made in Bedfordshire, for agricultural workers to take into the the fields. It had sweet filling in one end and a savoury one in the other. If you dropped it you really would have made a bit of a mess ;-)

orange_fell

March 5 2014, 17:09:38 UTC 7 months ago

What does it mean as a proverb? "To make a mess"?

quarryquest

7 months ago

freakyzoid

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

freakyzoid

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

aletheiafelinea

7 months ago

quarryquest

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

aletheiafelinea

7 months ago

conuly

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

conuly

7 months ago

aletheiafelinea

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

rheasilvia

March 5 2014, 11:08:49 UTC 7 months ago

A parallel I find interesting is that the jokingly positive English "geniusses think alike" is, in German, the jokingly negative "zwei Dumme, ein Gedanke" (two idiots, one thought).

lareinemisere

March 5 2014, 14:26:19 UTC 7 months ago

As well as 'Great minds think alike' (Native speaker note: I've never heard anyone use 'geniuses' in this proverb) English also has 'Fools never differ', which is often said in (equally joking) response.

rheasilvia

7 months ago

rheasilvia

March 5 2014, 11:21:00 UTC 7 months ago

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink!" would in German probably be: "You can't carry a dog to the hunt" (Man kann einen Hund nicht zum Jagen tragen).

Ooh, I didn't actually know the dog proverb - and it's a very nice one! :-) I will make sure to use it soonest.

I would have used the rather straight-forward "man kann niemanden zu seinem Glück zwingen" (you can't force someone to their good fortune), but this is much nicer.

dieastra

March 5 2014, 11:27:02 UTC 7 months ago

That's why I love such discussions, you always learn something you didn't know before.
It's not that I use this special idiom all the time, but yesterday, while discussing something with my friend, it suddenly popped up and made me start this discussion. I hadn't even thought about the other one with the luck/fortune, but yeah, you are right, it is similar.

rheasilvia

7 months ago

dieastra

7 months ago

sagrima

March 5 2014, 17:21:05 UTC 7 months ago

Hi, perhaps everyone has seen this but I just love this: http://global3.memecdn.com/finnish-proverbs_o_477359.jpg

Finnish proverbs that is. They kind of make some sense in Finnish...

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" would be "Better to have a hazel grouse in the hand than ten (of them) on the branch". (Parempi pyy pivossa kuin kymmenen oksalla). The other examples are quite same, or at least I can't think of any variations right now.

Many of Finnish proverbs are based on alliteration, like "chicken cage of terror" would be in Finnish "kauhistuksen kanahäkki" (that is bemoaning like "Oh dear God" or something), "Madmen have cheap pastimes" -> "Hulluilla on halvat huvit" and "It always splashes when you plaster" -> "rapatessa roiskuu".

dieastra

March 20 2014, 16:27:15 UTC 7 months ago

I love alliterations! Finish sounds like a really great language.

dajagr

March 5 2014, 18:26:19 UTC 7 months ago

I always liked this one in German:

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" becomes, "Man muss mit den Wölfen heulen." Essentially, "You have to howl with the wolves."

freakyzoid

March 5 2014, 19:22:59 UTC 7 months ago

it is also the same in Russian, about wolves: с волками жить - по-волчьи выть. if you live with wolves - you howl like a wolf.

aletheiafelinea

March 5 2014, 19:30:46 UTC 7 months ago

I like such comparisons too.
Polish

"The straw that broke the camel's back" would be "kropla, która przelała kielich" = "the drop that overflow the goblet".

Two birds with one stone - upiec dwie pieczenie przy jednym ogniu = to roast two roast-meats by one fire.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush - lepszy wróbel w garści niż gołąb na dachu = a sparrow in hand is better than a pigeon on the roof.

And from the comments:

Japanese "the bottom of the lighthouse is dark" - najciemniej jest pod latarnią = there's darkest under the lantern. Can be said like in cases when a newspaper headline reads "Turned out the wanted criminal lived next door to the Police station!" :)

The Chinese "playing music (playing a stringed instrument) for a buffalo" - rzucać perły przed wieprze = literally the same as English and German 'to cast pearls before swine'.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do - kiedy wszedłeś między wrony, musisz krakać jak i one (yes, it has a little rhyme's form) = when you got between crows, you have to caw as they do.

dieastra

March 5 2014, 21:33:25 UTC 7 months ago

to roast two roast-meats by one fire

That's an interesting twist, as so far everyone else had animals that got killed, just different animals. But you have a fire!

I love proverbs that rhyme, this can't be translated and only works in the language. Here's a German one: "Der Lauscher an der Wand hört seine eig'ne Schand'" - He who listens at the wall will hear all the bad things other people say about him.

Nice one with the crows! (I first read it as "cows" LOL)

aletheiafelinea

7 months ago