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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 ...


37

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.


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, ...


28

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.


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 ...


21

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.


19

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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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

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, ...


13

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 ...


13

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”


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 ...


12

It's an idiom, generally used when somebody is expressing their belief that they (or someone else) has to work without rest. 'For the wicked' is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek expression implying that the reason the person is having to work is as a punishment for their being wicked, but this meaning is never literally intended.


12

It's a quote by Will Rogers, and almost anything he said (in one sentence or less) could be described as a proverb. The meaning is sort of obvious: if you slap a man who is chewing tobacco, you are likely to end up wearing it! It would be similar to "catching a tiger by its tail". The idea being that you should not underestimate your adversary. About Will ...


11

I'm not sure about the very origin of the saying and I'm inclined to think it's probably lost for ever. What I can confirm though are the following points: Yes the Old English word for apple ("æppel") was a generic term for any kind of fruit. Just as the ancestor of deer (deor) meant any kind of wild animal (see German "Das Tier"). This is not a ...


11

Let me offer an interpretation of this sentence. The verb of the sentence is "doth not make", the subject is the gerund "reading" and the object is "a writer". So the order is in fact subject-verb-object except that part of the verb ('make') is pushed to the end. This is a figure of speech called hyperbaton, and its purpose is to place the emphasis on that ...


11

Although you asked for a proverb or expression (which simchona has provided), there's also a single word for this: a dilemma is a choice between equally unappealing options. From the Oxford English Dictionary: 1. In Rhetoric. A form of argument involving an adversary in the choice of two (or, loosely, more) alternatives, either of which is (or appears) ...


11

It is a proverb meaning a complex task is bound to take a long time (and should not be rushed). It is a French proverb from the 1100s (more precisely 1190 A.D.) and didn't come into English until 1500s. A cleric in the Medieval court of Phillippe of Alsace — the Count of Flanders — dreamt up (or perhaps stole) the phrase in French: Rome ne s’est pas faite ...


11

This axiom is not a comparison between safe and sorry. It is a reminder, born out of bitter experience, that adverse situations will occur, and being prepared for when they do is better than the alternative. Safety always takes time and effort that many see as a waste. If an adverse action occurs infrequently, it is all-too-human to assume that just ...


10

It means that you can give someone all the opportunities needed to learn or do something, but it will be in vain if the person concerned doesn’t want to do it. ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable’ attributes it to Heywood in 1546. There is an account of an earlier origin here. As an aside, Dorothy Parker was once asked to make a pun of horticulture, ...


10

"Search the wound while it is green" means probe the wound while it is fresh. The entire sentence is simply saying that we should always examine the wound while it is still fresh: if we examine it when the sore has already festered, it would be too late. And I think it serves as a metaphor. My previous attempt to interprete "the medicine bringeth double ...


9

The classic proverb holds that, "There is honor among thieves.”1 The meaning, of course, is the concept of "professional courtesy," that even the disreputable and unethical do - particularly among themselves - adhere to various sorts of moral codes of conduct.2 As to the converse, "no honor among thieves," the meaning is self-explanatory. Curiously, the ...


8

I think the origin of these phrases is from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1602: As for which came first, lucky or charm, I found the charm variation earlier and not of American origin as The Phrase Finder has, but British. This is from The Cabinet Album, 1830 (date check): And the lucky version I found three years later in The Port Admiral, ...



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