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There is an old Japanese saying, “捨てる神あれば、拾う神あり-Suterukami areba hirou kami ari,” meaning “There’s a god who puts you down as well as a god who picks up you.” In other words, “In this world, some people help you, and some people harm you” or “Fortune and misfortune come alternately.”

For example, when you are fired from an IT company, and then hired by its rival company with a higher salary three months later, your peers will say to you “You're a lucky man. There’s a god who throws you away as well as a god who picks you up.”

I’m curious to know if there are similar sayings in English to “Suterukami areba hirou kami ari.”

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Something to be careful of is that when referring to Japanese (Shinto?) gods, they are a generic term and thus lower case "g". When translating to English, there's a distinction between "God" (capital G, the one deity in Western religions) and "god" (any other deity, unrecognized by Western religions). What I'm saying is that you don't write "God" when you are referring to one of several "gods" in a polytheistic faith. From the structure of the saying, it sounds like you're talking about two different gods. –  Phil Perry May 9 at 13:49
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As this is an Japanese old saying, it would presuppose Shinto gods. I corrected the spelling accordingly. I presume however, we can also extrapolate God in the meaning of "There’s time that God puts you down, and picks you up sometimes” as in “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," suggested by Scott Centoni. –  Yoichi Oishi May 9 at 20:29
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@Yoichi, I love your questions :) The closest in English is "one door closes, another opens." For an excellent example of this, carefully watch The sound of music. (Incidentally, all students of English should carefully study this film, as it's a fundamental musical-linguistic experience of 20th C English. For example, it contains "do-re-mi" which is the second most important rhyme in English after the alphabet song.) "Lord giveth, Lord taketh away" is more "biblical/Christian/religious" than the more general doors open/close. –  Joe Blow May 12 at 6:38
    
Yoichi, one thing that immediately comes to mind for me is the flippant, badass, random, whacky, "you'll never know what will happen next" nature of the Greek gods in homeric writings, in the homeric era. Here in the west we often contrast that with our modern, absolute, nobody-else-but-me, one-truth-only, monotheistic Christian/Muslim/Jewish God. I bet, there were some homeric-like phrases on what you describe. The ONLY modern thing I can think of is "The gods must be crazy!" which is a comedy film about the concept you describe, from an African tribesman's view. (Hilarious film BTW.) –  Joe Blow May 12 at 6:51

12 Answers 12

up vote 48 down vote accepted

Probably the closest English saying to this is "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," which is actually a misquote of Job 1:21:

And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

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@BlessedGeek: fact is, you're not going to find any widely used religious sayings in English that are not based on Christianity. And this saying is really the exact monotheistic equivalent of the Japanese one. –  Michael Borgwardt May 9 at 7:35
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It's not a "misquote", it's a paraphrasing. –  Marcel Turing May 9 at 8:35
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@fNek, a completely different meaning? Sometimes God takes away ("puts you down"), and sometimes he gives ("picks you up"). Perhaps the most significant nuance in the original scripture is that there are only two events described: the beginning and end of life. Of course, this doesn't apply to the commonly paraphrased version (which is the answer). –  Paul Draper May 9 at 17:13
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@BigHomie "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away" does not mean "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Yes, the paraphrase is taken out of context, but otherwise its meaning is essentially intact. –  Kyle Strand May 9 at 17:54
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(There's also the Tom Waits version, from "Step Right Up": "The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.") –  Kyle Strand May 9 at 17:56

Take the good with the bad seems to fit.

If you'll excuse a crude example:

My wife was being a real bitch this morning, but the sex we had last night was excellent, so I guess you have to take the good with the bad.

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Another excellent idea. –  Joe Blow May 12 at 6:45

when one door closes, another opens

When one opportunity is lost, another opportunity soon becomes available.


Alternative forms

  • when one door closes, another door opens
  • when one door closes, another one opens
  • when one door shuts, another opens

There are versions with "God" in it also:

  • when God closes/shuts a door, he opens another
  • when God closes/shuts a door, he opens a window

A less common one:

  • when God closes/shuts a door, he opens a universe
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This is quite close. One difference is that this typically refers to opportunities, not other kinds of misfortune. If your cat got hit by a truck, but eventually recovers, you probably wouldn't apply this saying. –  Paul Draper May 9 at 17:16
    
@Paul: I agree it is usually used related to opportunities and this fits better to the OP's example also. Though, it can be used regarding to other misfortunes including your example because I heard people using this saying when talking about recoveries. I think it is a flexible proverb. The equivalent proverb does not have to include God and religious connotations also and this proverb can be used both with or without God. –  ermanen May 9 at 17:55
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This seems closest to the original intent to me, as in English, a god or gods would not usually be invoked in this scenario. –  Michael Hampton May 9 at 19:34
    
I do not know what the Japanese idiom is supposed to mean, but there's an apparent difference: in your expression the good thing follows the bad thing, in the Japanese idiom no such order is assumed, as far as I can tell with the limited information available. It would be interesting to know if the Japanese idiom could be used after someone wins the lottery, as a way of saying "tread carefully, behave well", and if so then your suggestion would not capture its spirit (speculating here). –  PatrickT May 10 at 20:23

From classical times through the Renaissance, the western tradition was a single goddess, Fortuna, "Lady Luck", who turns men on her wheel, bringing them from misery to happiness and back again.

In Shakespeare's King Lear, for instance, the loyal Kent, when the villains lock him overnight in the stocks, composes himself to sleep with a prayer to Fortune to raise him to his former high estate:

      Fortune, good night,
Smile once more, turn thy wheel.

And when the villainous Edmund, who has risen from nonentity to preeminence, is slain by his brother, he concedes that he has been Fortune’s toy:

The wheel is come full circle: I am here.

Here’s a medieval representation of Fortune turning her wheel:

enter image description here

The legend reads (in Frenchified Latin), on the left, I will reign; on top, I am reigning; on the right, I have reigned, and on the bottom, I am without a kingdom.

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The wheel (of fortune) which turns (full circle), is also used in Italian. La ruota gira prima o poi which means if things are bad now, be patient and wait, sooner or later it will turn in your favour. –  Mari-Lou A May 9 at 19:54
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Interestingly, the phrase "come full circle" is still quite common, while references to the wheel and Fortune are few and far between these days. (At least in my experience.) It's good to know where it comes from. –  Bobson May 9 at 20:13
    
This is a truly beautiful post, but it appears to be completely unrelated to the question, and/or offers no suggestions at all about a possible answer?? –  Joe Blow May 12 at 6:42
    
@JoeBlow - The suggestion in it, as I understand it, is "The wheel has come full circle" and variations thereof. It's not very explicit, though, and could probably use an edit to clarify. –  Bobson May 13 at 12:52

Your question reminded me of a Biblical quotation that I remembered from my childhood, but which, after a bit of searching online, has turned out to be just another biblical misquotation ("The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away").

Regardless, the misquotation I was thinking of is based on Job 1:21, which says:

"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."

As an atheist who has not systematically studied the Bible, I don't pretend to have any insight into the significance of this verse. But the misquotation (and variations on it) does seem to be pretty well-established in today's Anglo-Saxon culture.

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"Some days you get the elevator and some days you get the shaft"

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In common UK English, there's 'What you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts', which I often hear abbreviated to 'Oh well, swings and roundabouts'

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I think it's, "What you lose on the swings, you make up for on the roundabouts." (As you point out, though, "swings and roundabouts" is far more common.) –  starsplusplus May 9 at 8:57
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What are "swings" in this context? I would expect it to have something to do with roadways/driving (to parallel "roundabouts"), but I don't know of any such meanings for the term. –  Marthaª May 9 at 23:49
    
@Marthaª it refers to playground swings and roundabouts (a merry-go-round) –  Will V May 10 at 2:29
    
@Will I'm pretty sure that it's racetracks, not playgrounds. –  chrylis May 10 at 4:46
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@neil Alas, the Scottish socialist John Burns used the phrase in the Parliamentary Debates for May 1895, seventeen years before Chalmers' poem was published. –  StoneyB May 11 at 12:21

You win some and you lose some

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Amazing suggestion. Brilliant. –  Joe Blow May 12 at 6:41

This too shall pass.

Admittedly not English in origin, but common in English. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_too_shall_pass

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It's an interesting question, because the English language has a significantly monotheistic background, so references to one god for this and one god for that are not common.

Your question made me think of the line from the song "He who made kittens put snakes in the grass", but once again this is the same god, not different gods.

However, I think that the monotheistic quotes are the English equivalent for the saying you have referred to: it's what English say when referring to the same phenomenon, even though the religious background to it is different.

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To translate this expression, you need to cope with the very different attitudes towards divinity of Japanese and 'Western' culture. When a Japanese expression talks about the kami, it's in a different atmosphere than when an English expression talks about God.

There are many kami, they come and go. The Japanese expression suggests that there are many powers in the world and that different ones are influential at different times.

The monotheistic view is very different: there's one deity. It's very different for the one and only deity to dish out varying results than for random encounters with different kami to result in different outcomes.

Thus, you might want to stick to expressions that don't involve God, but rather talk about fate, or luck, or use the passive. I think you're better off avoiding divinity altogether, as you lose a lot more translation quality by referencing the very different divinity than you gain by maintaining the reference to divinity at all.

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Exactly correct. IMO you've explained why "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away" is not so good, and "windows close/open" variants are much better here. –  Joe Blow May 12 at 6:45

Sometimes You Eat The Bear, Sometimes The Bear Eats You

(The quote from one great movie to lighten down this solemn thread.)

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