North wind tells the arrival of spring season in Japan. And incidentally, we have an idiom, “馬耳東風,” of which literal translation is ‘the east wind to the ears of horse,’ meaning a person who doesn’t listen to, or respect other’s opinion, advice, and suggestion like a horse is insensitive to the meaning and tastefulness of east wind. For example, we say “His boss’s admonition was just an east wind to Taro. And he was fired.”

I don’t know why it should be east wind, not west, south or north wind, but Chines have the same saying, “东风吹马耳.”

The structure of “East wind to a horse” resembles “Pearls to a swine,” but is pretty different in meaning.

Are there similar figurative expressions to describe a person who has deaf ears to others' advice and opinion, like an obstinate or insensitive horse?

  • 7
    Actually, from what you've described, "...Pearls before swine," is pretty equivalent. It means: good advice is wasted on people too ignorant to heed it.
    – Oldbag
    Mar 30, 2015 at 0:11
  • 1
    @Oldbag. I thought ‘East wind to ‘Horse’s ears’ and ‘Pearls before swine’ are in the neighborhood, but have a bit different nuance of meaning as I noted. For instance, ‘Apple stock is a pearl before me who don’t invest in stocks’ doesn’t necessarily match ‘The stockbroker’s solicitation was the east wind to a horse to me – It came in one ear and went out the other.” Mar 30, 2015 at 1:20
  • 3
    To me, "pearls before swine" refers to a situation in which someone fails to appreciate the great beauty, wisdom or worth of something; it is both too general for this case, and praises the bosses advice too much (unless it was really sagacious). Incidentally, doesn't Japanese have 猫 に 小判 ("a gold coin to a cat"), which is an almost perfect translation of "pearls before swine"?
    – Beta
    Mar 30, 2015 at 17:48
  • 1
    @Oldbag, according to Wiktionary, the phrase means "To give things of value to those who will not understand or appreciate it." This is clearly not synonymous.
    – A. Donda
    Mar 30, 2015 at 18:48
  • 1
    @Beta. 猫 に 小判 ("a gold coin to a cat"), is an exact English counterpart to 'pearls before swine." We also have an idiom,"馬の耳に念仏ーIntoning the name of Amitabba (Pureland Buddha) to horse's ears, " which is more synonimous to 馬耳東風. Mar 30, 2015 at 20:56

10 Answers 10


We do have an expression, "in one ear and out the other"

His boss's admonition went in one ear and out the other and he was fired.

One could also say, "His boss's admonition fell on deaf ears.

  • 4
    fall on stony ground also.
    – ermanen
    Mar 30, 2015 at 0:36
  • 3
    "in one ear and out the other". This is simply wrong. This describes a easily distracted, attention poor child, not a "obstinate or insensitive horse".
    – aaa90210
    Mar 31, 2015 at 4:56
  • I agree. not listening to your boss is wrong. If he'd listened to his boss, he'd still have a job. :)
    – Jim
    Mar 31, 2015 at 5:15
  • Well, there are two answers here. Fell on deaf ears is OK. But in one ear and out the other does not capture the same spirit as what is being asked in the question. If something goes in one ear and out the other, it's not so much that the person who owns the ears is obstinate; it's that the person who owns the ears is either forgetful or not paying attention.
    – John Y
    Apr 1, 2015 at 3:36
  • @Jim: You can be fired for being obstinate or for being scatterbrained. You've captured the wrong one with the main part of your answer.
    – John Y
    Apr 1, 2015 at 3:42

If you just look up the English translation here, you get

utter indifference; talking to the wall; praying to deaf ears

In the US, I don't hear "praying to deaf ears" as a common expression, though "fell on deaf ears", as mentioned in another answer is. The second phrase, or a slight variant---"talking to a wall"---is also very common in the US. For example,

I tried to tell him how unhealthy that was, but it was like talking to a wall.

Edit: As pointed out in the comments, talking to a brick wall is a stronger expression (and is also very common).


Continuing with the horse motif:

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink it.

That is, you can lecture someone but, your words may not have accomplish the desired effect.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

  • 1
    Shouldn't that be "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink"?
    – einpoklum
    Apr 1, 2015 at 10:02
  • 1
    And then there was the Dorothy Parker, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." Apr 19, 2015 at 3:48

Seed sown along the path is a reference to Jesus' parable of the sower:

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. Matthew 13:19 NIV

In the more familiar KJV it was seed by the wayside:

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. Matthew 13:19 KJV

His boss’s admonition was just seed sown along the path. And he was fired.


Jim's answer is perfect for a situation when someone is ignoring a particular opinion or piece of advice.

But if you're talking about someone who routinely ignores the advice/opinions of others, you might call them a maverick, or a lone wolf.

  • 2
    Or a loose cannon.
    – user867
    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:18
  • 3
    I might say that they keep their own counsel if I thought that was a good thing, or I might call them a stubborn old fool if I thought that was a bad thing.
    – Jim
    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:19
  • single-minded or close-minded would also fit for someone who is adamant about having their own way, disregarding advice given
    – Robotnik
    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:45
  • Except that a maverick can be used in a complimentary way – someone who doesn't just go along with the crowd.
    – J.R.
    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:51
  • Or pig-headed.
    – Beta
    Mar 30, 2015 at 17:53

There is "You can't tell that guy anything. He marches to his own drummer".


"Giving him advice is like teaching French to a pig. You waste your time and annoy the pig".

  • That's a variant of something very relevant to an unmoderated Usenet group I knew: "Do not mud-wrestle a pig – you get dirty and the pig enjoys it."
    – David Pugh
    Apr 27, 2015 at 20:17

A person who doesn’t listen to, or respect other’s opinion, advice, and suggestion is a know-it-all:

n. someone who gives the impression of knowing everything.

McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Or also possibly strong-headed, arrogant and stubborn.


In a similar vein, Jesus is quoted as saying, on numerous occasions,

Whoever has ears, let them hear."— Matthew 13:9

I would suppose that most of the people Jesus was addressing not only had ears, but had ears that worked. So the fact that Jesus felt it necessary to, repeatedly, encourage his audience to “listen-up!” would seem to indicate that his exhortations were aimed at people who had a tendency to pay no heed to what they heard.


Perhaps, and I'm inventing, in part: "[playing/being] a Trojan to one's Cassandra." See Cassandra.

Now, in terms of English idioms, "have blinders on," touches on what you want, too.

  • That's blinkers in English.
    – John
    Mar 30, 2015 at 7:39
  • @John Mee, per Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dict, they are equivalent for one of the meanings of blink·er noun 2 a (1) : blinder 1 (2) : a cloth hood with shades projecting at the sides of the eye openings used on skittish racehorses — usually used in plural Mar 30, 2015 at 7:48
  • In American English, it would indeed be blinders.
    – Tony Ennis
    Mar 30, 2015 at 23:27

It's just come to me while I was trying to be helpful to someone. It was clear the person had already made their mind up, and wouldn't listen to any advice that either contradicted or challenged their opinion.

Sometimes it's a question of pride, low self-esteem or just sheer bloody mindedness! :-)

There's none so deaf as those who will not hear

Proverb. If you tell someone something that he or she does not want to know, he or she will not pay attention to you.
There's none so deaf as those who will not hear proverbial saying, mid 16th century, used to refer to someone who chooses not to listen to unwelcome information.

The proverb was first recorded in 1564, with different wording "Who is so deaf, or so blind, as he that willfully will neither hear nor see" but a French equivalent was in use 200 years earlier.

Sources: The Free Dictionary; Encyclopedia.com; The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs By Martin H. Manser

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