In Russian there's a saying that 'the first crepe always comes out wrong' (literally 'stuck together into a ball'), meaning that you'll have to try more than once to succeed at something - because crepe batter is usually trial-and-error.

What's the appropriate English translation?

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    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again is the traditional saying. – John Lawler Jun 2 '14 at 16:07
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    Never ship your prototype. :) – tchrist Jun 2 '14 at 16:11
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    I don't know if there's a really close English idiom, but the outside-of-the-kitchen meaning of "the first crepe always comes out wrong" is quite understandable in English. – J.R. Jun 2 '14 at 21:59
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    I had no idea that there existed a general first-crepe-comes-out-wrong problem. I thought it was only me who does this, when the pan isn't hot enough yet and I too eagerly start cooking! – ErikE Jun 2 '14 at 23:09
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    Fun (?) fact: In Croatia there is a rather horrible saying "First kittens are thrown into water", with exactly this meaning. – Amadan Jun 4 '14 at 7:24

10 Answers 10


From software engineering: Build one to throw away.

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    The origin is "Plan to Throw One Away," one of the essays in The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks. – Matt Eckert Jun 2 '14 at 21:10
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    My dad used to have a poster that said "Plan to throw one away" as the caption for a photograph of a collapsed railroad bridge (the bridge had collapsed as soon as the locomotive was fully committed, so the locomotive just sits there with its nose in the river looking ridiculous). I had no idea it came from Brooks! – MT_Head Jun 2 '14 at 21:41
  • @MattEckert but that one is more awkwardly worded, IMHO. – Trampas Kirk Jun 3 '14 at 1:17
  • At my job we say "You have to code it wrong in order to figure out how to do it right" which is obviously super wordy and awkward and not really a common idiom besides. I feel that the idea is the same though. – Dave Jun 3 '14 at 12:49
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    Another way of saying this is 'burning pancakes' which is similar to the OP's initial saying. One of my instructors in object oriented programming used this idiom for throwaway prototyping. You need to burn one or two to get the pan in the right condition for the others to work out. – GenericJam Jun 3 '14 at 19:25

It may not be the exact translation, but

Rome wasn't built in a day

may convey the same meaning here, depending on your usage.

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    Andi, perhaps consider consolidating your answers into one response rather than posting two (I mean this with no condescension). Cheers :) – njboot Jun 2 '14 at 16:50
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    They are so different, I felt like it made sense to separate them so any comments could be targeted with less confusion. – andi Jun 2 '14 at 16:52
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    @njboot it's probably better to separate since they mean different things. – Mitch Jun 2 '14 at 16:54
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    This one is meant to convey the idea that large tasks require a long time to accomplish. – Trampas Kirk Jun 2 '14 at 22:42
  • Yes, this is a different idiom entirely. And it exists in Russian, too, so the OP is not looking for this one. – RegDwigнt Jun 3 '14 at 9:27

While not exactly what you want, my mother used to say, "Children are like waffles - the first two are for practice."

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    Guessing you were the first one :-) – Pierre Arlaud Jun 3 '14 at 15:36
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    Third, actually. – WhatRoughBeast Jun 3 '14 at 21:01
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    I'll bet she had a different saying when she talked to the other two. :) – Barmar Jun 9 '14 at 18:28

Practice makes perfect

is a common saying that indicates someone needs to put some effort into something before it comes out right.

  • Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes progress. – bjb568 Jun 2 '14 at 22:47
  • This is better than your other answer, but it, too, has an equivalent in Russian. The idiom in question is different. – RegDwigнt Jun 3 '14 at 9:29

If at first you don't succeed try try again.

Failures are the stepping stones to success.

Failure is the mother of all successes


You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Always means to me that you will mess something up on the way to final success.

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    To me this always implied that change is never easy, and has dire consequences for some of the participants. – SplinterReality Jun 4 '14 at 7:22

By sheer chance earlier today I heard a native English speaker use this phrase:

There is no such thing as beginner's luck

He meant exactly the sentiment from the question: You need to try a couple of times before you get it right.
But he did it by taking the exact opposite expression beginner's luck and then denying it.

Even tough nobody else in the room is a native speaker of English we all understood perfectly what he wanted to say.
It is, as far as I know, not a well known idiom, but I found it very well suited to the situation.


Used in English, but translated from the original German:

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

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    Does this idiom suggest success on the second try? Or any try? If not, it does not meet the OP's request. – anongoodnurse Jun 3 '14 at 6:05

Haste makes waste.

approaches the general idea: if you rush into action, the results will be bad.


Don't count your chickens before they hatch comes to mind.

So do these:

If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

The first cut is the deepest

  • 'The first cut is the deepest' refers to your first relationship breakup being the most painful (you were never in love before and you think you never will be again, or at least you're afraid to try.) From this song en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_Cut_Is_the_Deepest . Don't count your chickens also seems of little relevance. – Level River St Jun 3 '14 at 10:22

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