There is a proverb in Persian which says:

تا مرد سخن نگفته باشد
عیب و هنرش نهفته باشه

This proverb literally translated means:

One's skills and weaknesses won't be seen, unless one talks.

Or in simple terms it wants to stress how much your actions and your speech reveal both your abilities and negative points.

Is there an equivalent proverb in English?

  • 2
    Handsome is as handsome does – FumbleFingers Sep 14 '13 at 11:09
  • 2
    This seems to be an admonition against speaking up. Most answers seem to take it as a exhortation for revealing one's capabilities through speech. You may want to edit this to state precisely the nuance you are aiming for. It could go either way, or do you want it both ways? – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 14:56
  • @Robusto - I took a stab at it, but, if I'm steering it in the wrong direction, I hope the O.P. will correct me, and do so soon. – J.R. Sep 14 '13 at 15:44
  • @J.R. would it sound better to say; ... to stress how your actions and speech might reveal both your strengths and weaknesses (??) – Mari-Lou A Sep 14 '13 at 18:10
  • This isn't a proverb specific to speaking/acting, but perhaps the gist is in a simple/familiar phrase: Perception is reality. (You are what people think you are.) – Autoresponder Sep 14 '13 at 18:33

As far as the negative side of your proverb goes, there is a popular quote that in slightly different forms has been attributed to various sources, from Abraham Lincoln, to Mark Twain, to the Bible:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
Abraham Lincoln

  • This comes as close as I think it is possible in English, if the OP's question is a warning about the dangers of revealing one's characteristics through speech. – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 14:57
  • @Robusto yes but the OP's proverb seems to include both the positive and the negative aspects, so this is not quite it. I keep thinking there's a phrase for the positive but I can't remember it. – terdon Sep 14 '13 at 14:59
  • My point exactly. See my comment on the question itself. – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 15:00
  • A nice overview of the history of the line, the original inspiration is likely Biblical (Proverbs), but the precise wording is quite a yarn to unravel: quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/17/remain-silent – BrianH Sep 14 '13 at 19:08
  • @BrianDHall thanks, that was the link I gave in my answer. – terdon Sep 15 '13 at 1:56

I've heard this one on multiple occasions:

Sometimes you need to toot your own horn.

However, that wording is usually meant to say that you need to promote your own strengths, but not necessarily show your weaknesses.

Although some dictionaries define toot your own horn as a way of boasting, I've heard it used in contexts where someone is not boasting, but perhaps should be letting someone know a little more about the behind-the-scenes work they have been doing; for example:

Ed: You worked hard on that project! I'm surprised you didn't get the promotion.
Ted: Maybe so, but I don't think the boss knows much about what goes on around here after 5 o'clock.
Ed: Well, Ted, sometimes you need to toot your own horn.

If you want to emphasize that you are sharing both stengths and weaknesses, you could say:

I'm going to lay my cards on the table.

which is used as a metaphor to describe being totally candid about an issue.

I don't think either of these match the Persian proverb completely, but they both have a bit of overlap.


The nearest English equivalent is probably ‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel.’ This is adapted from a story in the Bible, and it means that you shouldn't hide your talents. Bushel is an obsolete word for a bowl.

Here’s the full text, from Luke 11:33-36 in the King James Bible:

No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. 34 The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. 35 Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. 36 If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.

  • That covers strengths, but what about weaknesses? I believe there are nuances to the question that make it not nearly so obvious. – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 14:59
  • 'Better to shut your mouth and seem a fool, than open it and be one'? – Barrie England Sep 14 '13 at 15:01
  • I always thought that was a Twain quote but it seems to be much older and has a bit of an interesting history. See the link in my answer below. – terdon Sep 14 '13 at 15:02
  • @Barrie: That was terdon's response. The trick would be to figure out the nuances of the original Persian, which from the OP's translation seems to suggest that "Talking about yourself is a two-edged sword." – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 15:04
  • It may even mean that there is a downside to revealing either your strengths or your weaknesses. – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 15:06

I think the nearest common phrase is:

the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

This means you do not know the quality of something until you try it for that particular purpose. Literally it refers to eating, and has the implied meaning that you can't judge how delicious or satisfying a dish is from just its appearance. It can can be used as an invitation to someone to demonstrate their abilities.



  • If you want to be heard, speak up.
    If you want to be seen, stand up.
    If you want to be appreciated,
    Just shut up.

(Source 1 Source 2.)

Original post:

  • Tell me a story and I will tell you who you are.

    (Tell me a story and I'll tell you who you are.) I have heard it used, more than once. I don't see it in my refence books, but to prove that it is used:

    "(Küfner, A.C.P., Back, M.D., Nestler, S., & Egloff, B. (2010). Tell me a story and I will tell you who you are! Lens model analyses of personality and creative writing. Journal of Research in Personality, 44.)"

    I have a hunch it's been created by analogy from this:
    "You are what you Eat - Mann ist was Mann isst, man is what man eats. The saying is sometimes attributed to the French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who wrote in his Physiologie du Goût(1825): Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, 3rd ed, 2003)

  • A man is known by his words.

    "(Lauhakangas, O. A Man is known by his Words: The Functions of Proverbs in Social Interaction. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2004.)"


This one is perhaps the opposite of your proverb:

"Actions speak louder than words".

The meaning is quite straight forward - the value of one's character is better gleaned from a person's actions, rather than what they say.


'He said that he's a really kind person!'.

'Yes well, you did see him kick a puppy, and actions do speak louder than words [he's probably not as nice as he says]'.


I can think of a couple:

A man without words is a man without thoughts.

The wise man who does not put his knowledge into practice is like a bee that gives no honey.

Another proverb that comes to mind:

by their fruits you will know them

An appropriate idiom is:

don't judge a book by its cover

and the related proverb:

all that glitters is not gold

  • 1
    -1 I think you've confused the OP's request. These proverbs are appropriate to describe or warn about the difference between the real character or essence of a thing or person and their external appearance. – Mari-Lou A Sep 14 '13 at 13:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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