As you know, we Japanese experienced tremendous disasters of Magnitude 9 earthquake accompanied by tsunami exceeding 10 meter high in northeastern regions recently.

Living in the country always under the threat of big earthquakes, we have two popular saying that come to top of mind when we talk of disaster. One is “The great (natural ) disaster comes always when you have totally forgotten it.’ The other one is (the most fearful things under the sun are) “Earthquake, Thunderbolt, Fire and Father.” – Please note that the earthquake comes first.

Do you have popular saying or English cliché to be likened to such expressions? I'd like to teach them to my English enthusiast friends.

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    I suppose Father stands for a God? Yeah the news from Japan has been shocking. I do hope your family are all right. Mar 21, 2011 at 4:50
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    @Cerberus No, I rather think it's referring to a literal fearsome father who has high expectations for his children.
    – Uticensis
    Mar 21, 2011 at 5:01
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    Bilare is right. Father refers to literal stern father, not God. Under feudalistic social system where Confucianism ruled in old day Japan, father used to have absolute power and dignity in family, and was fearsome existence (though at fourth place in fearsomeness ranking). Today, father lost all its dignity, power and gravity in most of households in modern Japan. Mar 21, 2011 at 7:02
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    @Orbling: Yeah that's why I asked. I considered it a possibility that Japanese had some complicated word for "the spiritual, nature" that would be awkwardly translated as Father or God in some contexts, just as the polytheistic Greeks and Romans used the words God and nature in various ways. You will find Plato writing "God" all the time, without any monotheistic sense, but rather as "the divine", whatever that may be; it is still translated as "God". But I was wrong in any case, so why am I even rambling on. Mar 21, 2011 at 13:10
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    Point of interest: Because "Father" has lost it's power, this may have become an example of Arson, Murder, Jaywalking
    – Benubird
    Aug 6, 2015 at 8:23

7 Answers 7


Fortunately, in the UK, we don't suffer from natural disasters on the scale other countries do, so expressions related to them are very uncommon and I don't think any are in popular usage all over the country.

The great (natural ) disaster comes always when you have totally forgotten it.

seems similar to 'Things always happen when you least expect them' although this is a rather generic expression.

The other one is (the most fearful things under the sun are) “Earthquake, Thunderbolt, Fire and Father.”

This one however doesn't seem to have an English counterpart, as the most common natural disaster in the UK is flooding or snow related in some areas maybe there are reigional expressions which resemble this but none in common usage that I can think of.


What about 'the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse', who from my memory of the book of Revelation are War, Famine, Pestilence and Death?

  • Death rides a pale horse...There are several books (Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell for example) that use the four horsemen to great thematic effect...I had a point, but I think I forgot it...Either way, +1. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    May 7, 2011 at 23:36

In English, the expression "[Something happens] when you least expect it" is common and is often completed with "Disaster strikes"--especially by insurance companies. So, your first saying will be familiar to westerners.

As far as the second saying, I also could not find any English equivalent. I did find this book on Japanese sayings that includes English equivalents when it can, but it did not provide any for this particular saying.

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    Someone downvoted this, it would help to know why. May 13, 2011 at 4:01
  • I was going to answer Expect the unexpected! for the first one but that is I guess a variant of @Callithumpian's first suggestion.
    – k1eran
    Feb 29, 2016 at 17:41

Two memorable hymn lines come to mind.

The first is from the final verse of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which asks the "still, small voice of calm" (i.e. God) to

speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire

while the second is in the final verse of Eternal Father, Strong to Save which is asking God to protect sailors

from rock and tempest, fire and foe

but in both cases I expect the order to be simply for rhythm and rhyme, not importance.

  • As I said, anything like that in English would be bound to a statement to God.
    – Orbling
    Mar 21, 2011 at 12:46
  • I heard many men and women were crying “I lost all my family and house. I haven’t done nothing wrong. Why should I be punished and suffer agony like this?,” standing stunned on the debris. Their cries beat me. Is this God’s will? Why shoul he punish not only these people but innocent children and babies who did nothing wrong? I can’t understand at all as I’m writing this, still feeling sporadic aftershocks at M6 level at epicenter 100 miles away. Mar 23, 2011 at 1:08

One of the blessed things about England, is that it has an extremely low incidence of natural disasters.

If we have a magnitude 3 earthquake, it's front page news.

So such sayings are uncommon here, doom-laden sayings tend to be about God. In Christianity, it always seems that everything is apparently God's fault, good or bad.

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    I would say that in Christianity everything is God's will, not fault! :)
    – nico
    Mar 21, 2011 at 7:02
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    @nico: Well, if it's His intention, then if it is bad, it's His fault! ;-) [As an atheist, like more Britons, I can say this without fear of smiting.]
    – Orbling
    Mar 21, 2011 at 7:04
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    @Orbling: In your answer you said "in Christianity;" therefore, the affirmation is not exactly correct. In Christianity, it's God will.
    – apaderno
    Mar 21, 2011 at 7:13
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    @Orbling: as an atheist you should not say that an event is in anyway related to God at all! Anyhow, as much as I can agree with your point of view, I also think you will not find one single instance in the Bible where they mention that something is "God's fault"!
    – nico
    Mar 21, 2011 at 10:33
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    You're missing my point. If you say "In Christianity..." you're implying that what follows is the point of view of Christianity, whether you accept it or not.If you want to speak with your point of view then you should use "from an atheist point of view". It's like saying "In the Islamic culture, you shouldn't eat pork for sanitary reasons".Sure, that's the historical reason for it, but it's NOT the cultural reason Muslims believe in.You should rather say "In the Islamic culture, you shouldn't eat pork, because it's impure", even if you're a bacon lover!
    – nico
    Mar 21, 2011 at 12:55

I cannot think of a saying in English that invokes a father as a thing of fear. I just did a couple of searches on wikiquote, for "fear father", "terrible father" and "fearsome father" and none of them came up with anything relevant.

Fathers certainly can be fearsome, and there are many examples in English literature; and there are sayings about meting out punishment to children, such as "Spare the rod and spoil the child"; but the figure of a father as someone to be feared does not seem to have been enshrined in any proverbs or sayings that I can think of.


"Lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh, my!"

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