A simple truth that expresses an idea or fact.

learn more… | top users | synonyms (1)

82
votes
12answers
6k views

Is there English counterpart(s) to Japanese old saying, “Present salt to your enemy.”?

We have a popular Japanese saying, “敵に塩を送る” — literally, “present (supply) salt to one's enemy”, meaning ‘play fair and square, not taking advantage of the weak point of your rival.’ It’s different ...
48
votes
24answers
6k views

Are there counterpart English expressions to Japanese proverb, "the nail that pops up is always hammered down?

I was once reminded by Robusto-san of a Japanese popular saying, ‘出る釘は打たれる - the nail that pops up is always hammered down,’ when I complained about sequential down-votes that I received. I wondered ...
46
votes
14answers
7k views

What is the English equivalent to the Chinese/Japanese saying, “塞翁失馬— Life is like Old Sai’s horse”?

Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, 2012 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, the initiator of all-around (iPS) cells told a recently-held public symposium, quote: “I’m often asked by many people: ‘You ...
43
votes
21answers
7k views

Is there a saying or proverb for a situation where the weakest party will always lose?

Context - One might use it in the following situations: "An employee has an argument with her boss and a dispute follows." (she gets fired a few weeks later) "A student having an argument with his ...
38
votes
15answers
5k views

Are there English equivalents for “as beautiful as butt inside out”?

There is an old saying in Ukrainian folklore, which literally sounds like “[someone is] as beautiful as ass inside out” (“Гарна як срака навиворіт”). It is used when one wants to point a person's ...
24
votes
12answers
22k views

Proverb or expression for a situation with two choices, both leading to a different kind of trouble

I'm searching for a proverb or expression that describes a situation which has two choices or two ways out (that is, somewhat of a forced choice) where both lead to some kind of trouble (but not the ...
24
votes
10answers
4k views

Are there English figurative expressions equivalent to Japanese idiom 馬耳東風 meaning a person who doesn’t listen to other’s advice?

North wind tells the arrival of spring season in Japan. And incidentally, we have an idiom, “馬耳東風,” of which literal translation is ‘the east wind to the ears of horse,’ meaning a person who doesn’t ...
23
votes
16answers
4k views

Is there English proverb or saying equivalent to Chinese / Japanese common proverb 李下に冠を正さず- Don’t touch (redress) your coronet under the plum tree?

Recently I made an inadvertent mistake, which reminded me a familiar Japanese proverb to admonish us to stay away from situation and the likelihood to be suspected as a rule-offender. It is a set of ...
22
votes
4answers
685 views

Meaning of “medicine bringeth double care when the malady is past cure”

This is an excerpt from John Lyly 'Euphues: the Anatomy of Wit, does anybody know what does it mean? Search the wound while it is green; too late cometh the salve when the sore festereth, and ...
21
votes
12answers
2k views

Are there any English sayings equivalent to the Japanese proverb, “Go to bed early and wait for the good news”?

When politicians are waiting for the results in a Primary election, your son is waiting for admission to Harvard, an entrepreneur is waiting the bank’s approval for a financial loan, everyone frets ...
20
votes
9answers
4k views

Are there English equivalents to a Japanese old saying, “Be the mouth of cock rather than remaining as the tail of ox”?

Every time I hear about the success story of entrepreneurs such as IT business, not to mention Apple, Microsoft, and Soft Bank founders, an old Japanese saying, 鶏口となるとも牛後となる勿れ‐“(Choose to) be the ...
20
votes
5answers
3k views

What method of counting puts Twelfth Night on January 6th?

I know English has (or at least had) some strange usages of eve and night, but I still can’t figure out how December 25th and 12 can be combined to come up with January 6th. (This stems from my ...
18
votes
8answers
9k views

The logic behind “better safe than sorry”

It struck me that the phrase "better safe than sorry" is somewhat illogical, or perhaps more accurately, it is so logical and obvious that it seems to carry no meaning at all. My problem with this ...
18
votes
6answers
6k views

Time and tide wait for no man

In the old proverb: Time and tide wait for no man. Our first record of the proverb is from St Marher in 1225: And te tide and te time þat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet. When it was ...
16
votes
3answers
131k views

Can someone explain the phrase “All is fair in love and war”?

What are its origins and what does it really mean?
16
votes
7answers
3k views

English equivalent of a Kannada proverb

The saying goes like "ಬಡವನ ಸಿಟ್ಟು ದವಡೆಗೆ ಮೂಲ". When roughly translated to English it means: A poor man's anger only hurts his jaw [due to all the grinding of teeth in the process]. How to ...
12
votes
7answers
138k views

Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth

Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth. What is a gift-horse? Why shouldn't you look in its mouth? What does this idiom actually mean and how is it used?
12
votes
5answers
8k views

Is there honour among thieves or not?

I'm not sure which one of these apparently flatly contradictory proverbs I heard first but I have definitely heard both several times. One of them is: There is honour among thieves. Another is: ...
9
votes
4answers
277 views

Source and meaning of the proverb “Milk says to wine, Welcome friend”

While investigating an unrelated expression, I came across the following proverb in George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum ; or Outlandish Proverbs, Sentences, Etc., second edition (1651): Milk says to ...
9
votes
2answers
398 views

Is there English version of French army cliché, “A friend when you’re lieutenant, companion when captain, … the enemy when you’re general"?

I found a French army cliché; “A friend when you’ re a first lieutenant, a companion when you’re captain, a colleague when you’re major, a rival when you’re colonel, the enemy when you’re general” ...
8
votes
2answers
826 views

What is the similar meaning proverb in English?

We have a proverb in Bengali, if I translate it directly into English, it emerges as: Who is in there in the temple? I did not eat the banana! Meaning in the temple banana is used for prayer to ...
8
votes
4answers
36k views

Meaning of “no man is an island, entire by itself”

From an excerpt by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and does it count as a proverb?
8
votes
8answers
2k views

Meaning of “Butter is Gold in the Morning, Silver at Noon, and Lead at Night.”

In his book A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs: Explain'd and Made Intelligible to the English (1721), James Kelly offers this interesting saying (page 74, #138): "Butter is Gold in the ...
8
votes
8answers
6k views

Proverb or expression for someone taking on too much

What is an appropriate proverb or expression that means one has: Taken on too many tasks Set out to do something that one isn't qualified to do and hence probably will fail Set out to do something ...
8
votes
5answers
1k views

Is there a saying in English corresponding to “Another loach under the willow tree”?

In Japanese there's a saying "another loach" in the short form, "look for another loach under the same willow tree" in the long form. This saying is for ridiculing a person who blindly repeats what ...
8
votes
3answers
18k views

“Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco”

Is this a proverb? What does it mean and what is the origin?
8
votes
2answers
719 views

Beggars on Horseback

Near the end of Book I, chapter 17 of Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens writes: There are the beggars on horseback too, in another sense from the sense of the proverb. These are mounted and ready ...
8
votes
5answers
5k views

What does “If she smokes, she pokes” exactly mean?

What does part she pokes of phrase If she smokes, she pokes exactly mean?
7
votes
4answers
5k views

English proverb for when a solution comes too late

In Flemish we have a saying "Vijgen na pasen". Translated: "figs after Easter". It means a solution comes too late to be of any use. What is the English equivalent for this? Some googling gives me ...
7
votes
4answers
3k views

Ne'er cast a clout till May be out. Meaning?

Today across southern England, it was one of those glorious May mornings of which the poets wrote. The darling buds in bloom, the scent of the blossom hanging like nectar in the air, and the sun up in ...
7
votes
2answers
83k views

Origin of “do not argue with idiots” [closed]

What is the origin of the phrase “do not argue with idiots”? Please cite some credible references. From googling around, I found these three variations. One came from the Bible but I couldn’t find ...
6
votes
13answers
2k views

Are there any English sayings to the effect that little changes may lead to big changes?

Can you think of any sayings about change, especially ones expressing how a big change must begin with a little change? how certain institutions, ideas, or God remain eternally unchanged? Note: ...
6
votes
2answers
436 views

Meaning of “A man has as many masters as he has vices.”

What does this saying mean? It was said by Augustine of Hippo, but I do not exactly understand it. Thanks. A man has as many masters as he has vices.
6
votes
4answers
466 views

Responding to a poor question

There's a proverb in my native language (Norwegian) which is used as a reply to a person who complains about a poor answer given to his/her poor question. It says that the quality of the answer is ...
6
votes
7answers
28k views

What is the meaning of “Many a mickle makes a muckle”?

I've heard this phrase, and don't know what a "mickle" or a "muckle" is. Hence I have no idea at all what the phrase itself is supposed to mean.
6
votes
6answers
22k views

Origin of the phrases “third time’s the charm” and “third time lucky”?

What would the origin of the saying “Third time’s the charm”? I’ve also heard “third time lucky” used as well. Are these two expressions related to each other?
6
votes
4answers
2k views

Idiom for opportunistically exploiting a situation to one's advantage

I was wondering what various figures of speech could be used to describe a situation where somebody exploits a situation in order to push their own agenda. For example in Persian we have 'Catching a ...
6
votes
3answers
4k views

What does “God sends meat and devil sends cooks” mean?

What does the quote God sends meat and devil sends cooks by Thomas Deloney mean? And if it doesn't have a specific meaning, in which situation can I use it?
5
votes
6answers
622 views

Do we have an equivalent for Persian's proverb “to stretch one's leg more than one's rug”?

In Persian we have this proverb which translated literally becomes: To stretch one's leg more than one's rug which means that you go beyond the circle of your authorities, or the circle of your ...
5
votes
2answers
500 views

“The more chickens in a farm the more crap and the fewer eggs”

Consider: The more chickens in a farm the more crap and the fewer eggs. This is a proverb I hear often in Spanish (Cuba). I think it is pretty much self-explained: it is related to productivity ...
5
votes
1answer
1k views

English equivalent of a Malayalam saying

There is a saying in Malayalam which can be roughly translated as "In the land where noone has a nose, the broken-nosed one is the king". Is there a way to express the same sentiment in English?
5
votes
5answers
1k views

Is “life is hard without jam” in use?

I am looking for a translation of the French "la vie est dure sans confiture". Babel Fish gives me "life is hard without jam". But I am not sure whether this phrase is really in use. Are there ...
5
votes
3answers
9k views

“Rome was not built in a day” [closed]

I always heard this phrase from school, but never understood the actual meaning of it or how this phrase originated. What does this actually mean, and why was it Rome and not any other city? ...
5
votes
1answer
1k views

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

A recent question on Skeptics SE, brought up an interesting debate on the origin of this proverb. Particularly, in the comments to this answer we were wondering whether apple really refers to the ...
5
votes
1answer
149 views

What does wishbone mean in this Robert Frost quote?

What does the word wishbone mean in the following Robert Frost quotation? Also what is the message conveyed by the quote? Thanks! "A person will sometimes devote all his life to the development ...
5
votes
5answers
192 views

A proverb or idiom in English for people who pick up a new language very quickly

There's a proverb in my language which goes like --he/she spent just one night with the hen and ended up clucking the following morning. This saying can be used either positively or negatively. I'm ...
4
votes
6answers
970 views

What is an English word to mean “something that makes already strong one much stronger”?

We have a Japanese idiom, “鬼に金棒- oni ni kanabo,” of which literal translation is “let an ogres get an iron club,” or an ogres carrying with an iron club. For instance, the United States of America ...
4
votes
3answers
3k views

Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coin the proverb “A change is as good as a rest”?

The proverb a change is as good as a rest is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: A change of work or occupation can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation Cambridge ...
4
votes
4answers
4k views

Can “the chickens have come home to roost” have positive as well as negative connotations?

In answering a recent EL&U question (Idiom for the phrase "someone who gets what he deserved"), I cited the phrase "The chickens have come home to roost," and said that it "applies ...
4
votes
8answers
922 views

Proverb for Someone will work, but another will get the benefit

Can you suggest what would be a good proverb for "Someone will work, but another will get the result"? Like for the situation when one person does the hard work, but some other reaps the benefits. ...