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53

The most common English phrase for this is between a rock and a hard place. It means: In difficulty, faced with a choice between two unsatisfactory options. Specifically, to say you are caught between a rock and a hard place means that you are in a dilemma. The exact dilemma seems to be exactly what you're describing--Morton's fork, which is: a ...


44

The following comes to mind: Better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond. Although for 鶏口となるも牛後となるなかれ, http://kotowaza-allguide.com/ke/keikoutonarumo.html gives the following, which I personally had never heard: Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion. Better be first in a village than second at ...


38

I would think the idiom we are looking for is closer to Provide him with a fighting chance or a level playing field As for the Don't kick a man... I would contest that the rival in the narrative might not have been down, just lacking salt... I think the saying reflects something earlier than when the enemy is down (but could possibly also be used in that ...


35

As Marc pointed out in his answer, there is an Australian version, although his wording is much more proper than I would expect from us Aussies. I have always heard it expressed as "Tall poppies get cut short". Also, check out Tall Poppy Syndrome.


33

It may seem like a long shot but consider the quote from Milton's Paradise Lost: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven. even though it may carry additional (sarcastic ?) meaning.


31

I heard this phrase used, I think by a Korean, in a documentary called BBoy Planet. There, it was translated as "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down", which seems to carry the meaning better into English. English phrases with similar connotations might include... Keep your head down. Don't stick your neck out. It's difficult because, as you ...


30

This is like "it's better to buy insurance and not need it (than it is to not have insurance and need it)." In this phrase, being safe requires effort to be in that condition, but the effort is small compared to what loss might occur if that effort weren't made. Examples are: It's better to check behind your car every time you back out of your driveway, ...


29

I know the questioner wanted proverbs that value conformity, but this proverb comes to mind immediately: The squeaky wheel gets the grease It has the exact opposite meaning to the proverb in the question, but the sentiment is similar: it describes what happens to something (or someone) that draws attention to itself (himself). If the questioner is ...


26

There are a number of these in English. Between a rock and a hard place. Between Scylla and Charybdis. Between the devil and the deep blue sea. As well as the closely related expression: Out of the frying pan and into the fire.


23

A horses teeth are regarded as a good guide to its age. When you buy a horse you check its teeth to see if they match the age of the horse according to the seller. If someone gives you a horse as a gift, it is considered ungrateful to check its teeth. You are pointedly drawing attention to your doubts about the quality of the gift.


22

A gift horse is a horse that was a gift, quite simply. When given a horse, it would be bad manners to inspect the horse's mouth to see if it has bad teeth. This can be applied as an analogy to any gift: Don't inspect it to make sure it matches some standard you have, just be grateful!


22

While I initially interpreted the phrase with a modern understanding of "care", as in to tend to, I did a check on the etymology of "care" to see if it could have possibly have another meaning and this is what I found on Etymonline.com: care (n.) Old English caru, cearu "sorrow, anxiety, grief," also "burdens of mind; serious mental attention," from ...


19

The concept behind the phrase is that some areas of life are so important and overwhelming that you cannot blame someone for acting in their own best interest. For war, this implies that spies, torture, lying, backstabbing, making deals with enemies, selling out allies, bombing civilians, wounding instead of killing, and so on are "fair game" in the sense ...


19

The literal, direct translation is the English idiom: "ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer". Or, as we say in computer science: garbage in, garbage out.


18

Based on your historical narrative, it seems that an ideal counterpart would emphasize a spirit of fairness that trumps an opportunity to exploit a weakness during some struggle between two opponents. That being said, an English saying that I would offer is: Don't kick him when he's down. The saying refers to some kind of fistfight between two ...


18

I'd say something similar would be: A watched pot never boils Waiting for something to happen makes it seem like it is happening slower, whereas if you go away and do something else then time will seem to pass faster.


17

Something like these? “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”


17

The customary saying is In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, which was apparently coined by Erasmus.


17

In addition to phrases such as "play fair" and "don't kick a man when he's down" is the concept of Chivalry. When used in a modern day context, this entails standards of conduct such as courtesy, generosity, valour and fairness towards one's antagonists. Originally (and still today, when used in a historical context) Chivalry meant the code of conduct ...


17

I have heard the expression "Better to live one day as a lion than spend a lifetime as a sheep" used in that context.


16

No, it's not a proverb. It's a quotation, and it was written not by Francis Bacon, but by John Donne. It’s from his Meditation XVII. Its meaning is perhaps apparent in the continuation, closing with the famous words that gave Ernest Hemingway the title of one of his books: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a ...


16

There's Too many cooks spoil the broth. Everyone has a hand in the pot, so to speak, and what comes out is inedible.


16

An Australian friend used to say "When a blade of grass is taller than the rest, we cut it down to size."


15

For doing something that is too hard, or doing too much of it at one time, I'd say you could go with Biting off more than he/she can chew which usually implies "taking on too much/too may tasks", but I think it's fair to stretch it to "taking on a task that's too hard for you". This is, to me, the most obvious idiom for this, but it's fairly cliche. ...


15

Phrases.org.uk concurs with the OP that tide referred to a period of time: The notion of 'tide' being beyond man's control brings up images of the King Canute story. He demonstrated to his courtiers the limits of a king's power by failing to make the sea obey his command. That literal interpretation of 'tide' in 'time and tide' is what is now usually ...


14

It's not yet a saying per se, but the so-called butterfly effect is a modern theme popular in certain circles and commonly referred to in modern speech. So, people sometimes say things like “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas”


14

Denis Thatcher, husband of the late Margaret Thatcher, kept a notably low profile. When asked about it, he would sometimes say: It's the whale that spouts that gets harpooned. When people are, for example, starting a new job, they are often advised to: Keep your head down and your mouth shut. If somebody in an institution intends to oppress you, ...


14

It's in God's hands now is something that English speaking people of faith often say in similar situations. I don't know if it counts as an idiom, however. It's more of an actual statement of faith, and as such wouldn't typically be used by people who weren't believers. (As a comparison, there are also common English expressions like God only knows that ...


13

Here is a related line from Shakespeare that has become idiomatic: The lady doth protest too much, methinks. It comes from Hamlet and you can read all about it here. As the Wikipedia article suggests, it has come to mean that one can "insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying." I have ...


13

Honor among enemies, seems to me to be exactly what you are looking for. The word honor has been around for a long time and can mean several things, but I think the most applicable would be: a : a keen sense of ethical conduct : integrity (a man of honor) b : a showing of usually merited respect : recognition (pay honor to our founder) c : one's word ...



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