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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 "Closing the barn door when the cow has bolted", but the explanation seems to point more towards the wrong solution for a problem.

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    Figs after Easter origin: Christians could eat figs during fasting. After Easter, other food was prefered over the (dried) figs. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 13:58
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    Hindsight is 20/20.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:27
  • after-wit is a related term. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 18:20
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    "Vijgen na pasen" is Flemish, not Dutch. The Dutch version of this saying is "mosterd na de maaltijd".
    – Rob W
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 18:53
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    @RobW People in Flanders speak the Dutch language, so it makes sense to say Flemish expressions are used "in Dutch", just as Australian expressions are used in English. As to whether such expressions "are Dutch", that is more doubtful: the noun Dutch refers to the language and applies equally to Dutch as spoken in Flanders, but the adjective Dutch can refer either to the language or to the country. Commented Jan 2, 2016 at 12:22

7 Answers 7

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The standard idiom has to do with horses rather than cows:

closing/shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted
trying to stop something bad happening when it has already happened and the situation cannot be changed: Improving security after a major theft would seem to be a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

While the above is not an exact match, it can be adapted to serve your needs. You could simply say that the horse has already bolted, which would implicitly connote lateness.

Other common phrases that revolve around lateness include:

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  • So I get there is no exact match then? Both sayings are indeed close, but don't cover the load entirely if my (non-native) understanding is correct. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:25
  • @borisCallens There might be. Wait a while for others to chime in as well :) Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:40
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    "A day late and a dollar short" is a favorite of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. :)
    – Marthaª
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:51
  • Doesn't the dollar short suggest that the solution isn't a good one anyway? Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 10:21
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    Closing the barn door is the correct solution to preventing the horse from running away. It's just the timing that's bad. So this is the best fit, I think. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 8:34
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You were close with the cow and the barn door. It should be

It's too late to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Another is

It's easy to be wise after the event.

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    I've also heard it as simply, "the horse is out of the barn."
    – JAM
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:42
  • @JAM. There may be regional variations. Mine is the normal UK version. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:43
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    In the U.S., I've usually heard "barn door" (but it's also a horse). Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:22
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"A day late and a dollar short" is an expression used in situations you describe. Essentially, the solution is available but is of no use because of the delay in formulating it/

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    You're only ten months late, it was already suggested by coleopterist!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 21:40
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    @Mari-LouA How ironic ;) Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 11:54
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Taking a saying from a language you do not speak and trying to "translate" it is hard enough, given the challenging nature of idiomatic words and expressions. Coming up with an equivalent saying in a language you do speak often compounds the difficulty.

Frankly, other contributors to this post have beaten me to the punch with "20/20 hindsight," "Too little, too late," and "A day late and a dollar short."

While this may not be an answer to your question, it is somewhat apropos nevertheless. The French, I am told, have a saying that could be translated into English, roughly, as "brilliance on the staircase"; that is, thinking of the right thing to say when it's too late to do any good. Say some smart aleck at a party (or wherever) aims a snide comment at you. You are temporarily rendered speechless or you blurt out something feckless like "Oh yeah?!" Then on the steps as you leave the party you think of the perfect riposte, but it's too late. (D'oh! as you smack your forehead). Is there an English equivalent?

Well, how about "That ship has sailed"? Or, "Monday morning quarterback?" Or, "We get too soon old, and too late smart"? Or, "Why didn't I think of that!?"? Or, "You can't reinvent the wheel"? Or, "You can't un-fire a gun"? Or, "You can't un-ring a bell"? Or, "That's water over the dam"? Or, "Beating a dead horse"? Each one of the foregoing has a flaw or two, I suppose. Any other suggestions out there?

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  • Wow, quite verbose answer there. Thanks for the suggestions though. Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 10:16
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I've heard people simply say, "The horse is out of the gate." Makes for a shorter version of coleopterist's answer. May be a southern U.S. colloquialism though.

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  • The "horse out of the gate" and the "horse out of the barn" both refer to situations that have already commenced and can't now be stopped, but there is a slight difference between them. The former, derived from horse racing, can refer equally to events that were planned or unplanned, and regarded as positive or negative. The latter, speaking to the loss of valuable livestock, additionally implies that the transpired event is undesirable and was insufficiently anticipated. Commented Jun 18 at 22:06
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I love the reference to "brilliance on the staircase". Freud called such brilliant responses "Stair step thoughts"

Most others here refer to being out of luck but not an actual solution in hand. One I heard was "A perfect landing at the wrong airport."

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  • Can you elaborate on the first one? What is Freud's thing with staircases? Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 15:07
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Borrowed from French, the expression esprit de l’escalier, or esprit d’escalier, literally wit of (the) staircase, denotes a retort or remark that occurs to a person after the opportunity to make it has passed.

(from wordhistories.net)

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