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There is an interesting popular saying in southern European countries, that in Spanish, for instance, says: "Dios da pan a quien no tiene dientes". Literally, "God gives bread to those who have no teeth". Its meaning refers to the fact that often in life those who have solid means (money/opportunities/connections) are not interested or have no aspirations to get the best out of them, and vice versa.

I can't think of an English saying that conveys a similar meaning. Can you think of any?

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This is coming across as a translation request (which would make it off-topic). Could you at least make the title all-English? – Marthaª Apr 23 '14 at 21:37
There is no translation request, the literal meaning of the Spanish saying is clearly stated. It is a request on an English saying with similar meaning. – Josh61 Apr 23 '14 at 21:56
Is the idea behind this saying that you can't eat crusty bread if you don't have teeth (i.e., many objectively useful gifts fail to help those that may need them most)? Or is it that you can eat such bread even if you don't have teeth—by dipping it in milk or tea first, say (i.e., a thing can have use for those in need if they are enterprising enough to figure out how to make it work for them)? Or is it something else? Your explanation seems to equate "toothless people" with "those who have solid means but lack aspiration"; but "solid means" could refer either to "bread" or to "teeth" here—no? – Sven Yargs Apr 23 '14 at 22:24
I think that the main theme here is that life is essentially 'unfair'.Often life gives opportunities ( bread) to those who don't know what to do with them (have no teeth), while those who 'have teeth' are not given opportunities. This can be applied to different aspects of life. Think of a spoiled rich young man..he has money and opportunities to do a lot of things, but he will probably waste everything, while a lot of other capable young men have no means to realise their projects. Hope this is clear. – Josh61 Apr 23 '14 at 22:38
It's not a very English concept to be honest. We don't really like imagining ourselves as victims of cruel Fate/God. – user24964 Apr 24 '14 at 0:54

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think this saying puts emphasis on unfairness and inequality.

So "it's an unfair world" would be an equivalent.

Also, Oxford dictionary has this translation.

Additionaly, some sources mention the below proverb as an English proverb (which probably passed from Spanish or French in early 20th century). Not common though.

The gods send nuts to those who have no teeth.

From "Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs":

Said of opportunities or pleasures which come too late to be enjoyed.
Cf. Fr. le pain vient à qui les dents faillent, bread comes to those who lack teeth.

  • God gives us nuts to crack when we no longer have teeth.
    [1929 American Speech IV. 463]

  • The gods send nuts to those who have no teeth. In this life we either have too little of what we do want, or too much of what we don't want or can't use.
    [1967 Ridout & Witting English Proverbs Explained 68]

  • ‘It's seeing the gardens I—we—would have been going for,’ insisted Sloan, ‘Not the luxury.’ ‘Quite right,’ said Leeyes, adding obscurely, ‘The nuts come when the teeth have gone.’
    [2000 ‘C. Aird’ Little Knell (2001) xiv. 161]

Related to: old age; opportunity, missed

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"Food only looks good to a hungry man"

This gets to the root of the idea. Those with means, being food, don't want it or use it, but those without will work for it and desire it.

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Is that a saying or did you just make that up? – Mitch Apr 23 '14 at 22:09
It's from Xenocide by Orson Scott Card – Hunter Larco Apr 24 '14 at 10:53

I once heard someone recite what I had assumed is an old proverb, "God is in charge of the content of life; the Devil is in charge of the timing" (or words to that effect).

However, I haven't been able to find any citations, so I'm not sure of its actual status.

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Interesting saying, never heard of it before, but it is another effective way to refer to the mismatch or 'wrong timing' with which many events takes place in our personal lives. :) – Josh61 May 20 '14 at 10:33

People aren't satisfied with what they have / People always want what they can't/don't currently have:

The grass is always greener on the other side of the [hill/fence/street].

People don't realize how fortunate they are:

You don't know what you've got until it's gone.
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