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 express this properly or idiomatically in English? Is there any alternative proverb with the same meaning?

Edit: Poor in terms of wealth (material), not judgement. It's often the poor who pay the prices. Anger due to their helplessness.

  • 2
    I don't actually understand the proverb. What is its message? Poor men can't actually solve anything by being angry because they're powerless? Being angry is self-destructive? (In which case, what is the relevance of the "poor"?)
    – Urbycoz
    Feb 4, 2013 at 12:21
  • 6
    – mplungjan
    Feb 4, 2013 at 12:39
  • 8
    @Urbycoz. I may be wrong, but to me the proverb's meaning is: it is useless for a poor man to get angry, it won't take him anywhere and the only outcome will be his hurting jaw, as he will be clenching his teeth (or grinding them), either in an effort to restrain himself, or out of frustration. So in the end it's better and healthier for him to avoid getting angry. And I must say that I like the proverb a lot.
    – Paola
    Feb 4, 2013 at 13:19
  • 1
    Angry men shout and complain incessantly; this hurts their jaws. IMO, the teeth-grinding explanation is a bit of a stretch. Feb 4, 2013 at 13:50
  • 1
    Does 'poor' imply that they can't do anything else but complain? Is being poor central to the meaning of the proverb?
    – Mitch
    Feb 4, 2013 at 14:37

7 Answers 7


I don't know that there is a direct equivalent in common usage in the English language, that keeps the full sense of your proverb.

The closest I can think of is this quote:

"Malice drinks one half of its own poison." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca


Cutting off one's nose to spite one's face is quite close but not identical in meaning. From Wikipedia:

"Cutting off the nose to spite the face" is an expression used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem: "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face" is a warning against acting out of pique, or against pursuing revenge in a way that would damage oneself more than the object of one's anger.

  • 4
    I don't agree on the similar meaning between the proverb you quote and the one mentioned in the post. Your proverb points towards an action performed out of spite, or as a revenge, not to the pointlessness of the action itself because it does not serve any purpose. Clearly, I'm assuming that my interpretation of the proverb is right, and we must wait for the poster's final word about it.
    – Paola
    Feb 4, 2013 at 13:24
  • No - you go to a recognised authority for an authoritative view, not an ardent scholar (unless you know that they have reached recognised authority status). In any case, the points of the two sayings that match are (1) precipitate, angry reaction to a perceived injustice and (2) that knee-jerk reaction causing more damage to oneself rather than punishing the perceived offender. The rich - poor divide isn't connoted in the English saying. Feb 5, 2013 at 10:47

A close but not identical proverb is:

if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

The important part of the Kannada proverb is that a poor person can't do anything about their complaints more than be angry and gnash teeth.. The English proverb emphasizes that, in the same position of lack of power, they can at least wish for the good things.

What is the point of a proverb? To say this is what you can expect from the situation. For Kannada, it is that without means all you can do is complain; in English, you can wish all you want but can't do anything about it.

  • 3
    I'd say the meaning of "If wishes were horses ..." is the opposite of the Kannada proverb. Instead of wishing things were different actually do something about it. The Kannada proverb seems to be saying, there's nothing you can do - give up.
    – user24964
    Feb 4, 2013 at 16:09
  • @TheMathemagician: yes, other side of the coin that involves both someone without means. -and- desire to do something, negative anger vs positive wish.
    – Mitch
    Feb 4, 2013 at 17:42

You may be thinking of something like the old saying that. . .

Oft evil will shall evil mar.

In other words, nastiness often hurts itself, just like how anger is its own punishment.

  • A little explanation can put things into better perspective here.
    – Sayan
    Feb 4, 2013 at 13:03

Not quite a "proverb", but the chorus from She was poor but she was honest is a well-known close approximation to OP's meaning..

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor what gets the blame,
It's the rich what gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame? (aint it all a bleeding shame? in the version as known to me in the UK).

There's always never go to bed angry (or ...to sleep angry) - advice which may be given for various reasons, including as a preventative for bruxism (tooth grinding, esp. when sleeping). The earliest relevant "citation" for that is Ephesians 4:26–27

do not let the sun go down on your anger

  • I thought that was to protect one from life-long guilt in case the object of one's anger dies overnight. ;-) Feb 4, 2013 at 18:49
  • @Kristina: I did say the advice may be given for various reasons! That somewhat morbid implication doesn't normally occur to me, even though I'm often castigated for drinking with my nonagenarian father on the few times a year I see him, and we do sometimes talk/argue loudly far into the night. In consequence of which I'm invariably tasked with "prodding" him in the morning to make sure he hasn't expired overnight. But I did notice several links making that point in the results of my first search above. Me & my pa say eat, drink, and be merry, and don't dwell on the next line! Feb 4, 2013 at 19:02
  • You'll notice I didn't say I applied that expression to myself - but I'm more a sudden thunderstorm than a long-brewing storm anyway. :-) (If my Dad were still with us I'd do the same as you!) Feb 4, 2013 at 19:08
  • 1
    @Kristina: Longevity in parents is an attribute much to be desired, so I'm sorry to hear you lucked out there. Even if you don't enjoy their company, you can always take heart from the genetic link implying you might live to a ripe old age. Anyway, you've rattled my cage enough to make me realise I completely ignored OP's "poor", so I've added another contribution advising us poor disadvantaged folk to sing and make light of our woes, rather than get too worked up about what's effectively a "law of nature". Feb 4, 2013 at 19:18

This is more of a corollary:

Anger makes dull men witty, but it keeps them poor.
                                                                          - Francis Bacon

Wiktionary's entry for witty includes the following definition:

(archaic) Possessing a strong intellect or intellectual capacity; intelligent, skilful, ingenious.


It sounds a cruelly absurd ironic determinist proverb for me because talks about a kind of frustration caused by a permanent and inconvertible situation that is being poor from birth to death. Though it may has been made on critical purposes by people who protest against economical inequalities in their own society and want a change. I found some:

Wealth brings many friends. But the friends of poor people leave them alone.

It seems like a sympathy with poor people and their loneliness. I choose it to convey negative sense of poor people against their own unchangeable situation if the proverb is trying tell us about this side.

Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich.

I choose it if it is only a sarcastic saying to satirize poor people and their miseries and aristocratically advices them to be calm and accept their situation without any complain or anger and if they want a change try all right or wrong methods to gain money in short term like the other rich people.

  • It seems the proverb can apply outside of "permanent and inconvertible" circumstances or social injustices. Someone might be poor for a season - like a medical student spending 8 to 10 years in college, or a middle-aged worker who has lost a job and needs to go back to school to retrain in a new line of work. In either case, emotions like anger or self-pity only serve to bring added hardship on the poor person; anger certainly doesn't make their circumstances better, or bring just desserts on anyone who might have contributed to their unfortunate circumstances.
    – J.R.
    Feb 4, 2013 at 18:03
  • I think this proverb doesn't need a scenario pro or against social/political situations or a hot speech to prove poor is right or the creator of proverb which is not appear he/she is rich or poor to find what is her/his main motivation to make it. If you can find some better proverbs instead of mine so please reply it and open your fist to find what you have to defend of your idea. :)
    – user36922
    Feb 4, 2013 at 18:24
  • 1
    It's a hard question, and many good ideas have already been presented. If I think of a good alternative, I will add it to the list. However, my lack of an answer doesn't preclude me from making a comment in the discussion. @TheMathemagician wrote, "I feel such a proverb could only arise in a rigidly stratified society where people at the bottom had to stay there." You seemed to follow that interpretation some, when you spoke of unchangeable situations and aristocratic advice. Those sentiments aren't wrong per se, I only meant to point out the proverb needn't be restricted to such situations.
    – J.R.
    Feb 4, 2013 at 18:38
  • Sorry! your comment couldn't convince me. Anyway I have no problem with your comments. You can continue.
    – user36922
    Feb 4, 2013 at 19:20
  • Thank you for your comments as well, and for taking the time to consider mine. I'm perfectly fine with you remaining unconvinced, sometimes it's best to accept that we simply hold differing views. Besides, if I got angry over this, the best I could hope for is a sore jaw. :^)
    – J.R.
    Feb 4, 2013 at 19:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.