In my native language there is an expression that means "Things ought to be like this, but unfortunately they aren't"... This implies that you just should accept life as it is and toughen up.

Normally most expressions translate well and become a "wow-very-original-English-idiom" but this one just doesn't mean anything when translated in English...

So: what would be a correct idiom? (as googling didn't help much)

  • There's the retort, "Yeah, you wish!" as in, "They ought to make trees that grow dollar bills for leaves!" "Yeah, you wish!" It means roughly, "I know you wish it would but It's never going to happen, so get over it." OR "Like that's [ever] gonna happen." Or "Not a snowball's chance in hell" ."Too bad... not gonna happen.".
    – Jim
    Mar 31, 2015 at 21:51
  • 3
    An old one is "If wishes were horses then beggars could ride." And, of course, there's always "That's life!"
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 31, 2015 at 21:56
  • It would help if you included what your native language is, and what the idiom is in your native language. Perhaps someone who knows that language will read the idiom and that will trigger an association to a similar idiom in English. Mar 31, 2015 at 22:24
  • @HotLicks If we had some bacon we could have bacon and eggs, if we had some eggs. Mar 31, 2015 at 23:34
  • @HotLicks: The beggars' one is exactly what I was looking for... Could you please convert that comment to an answer so that I can accept it? I should have remembered that one, but it's getting hard at my age to keep 8 languages apart, English being only my fourth language... ;-)
    – Fabby
    Apr 1, 2015 at 8:45

5 Answers 5


An old one is "If wishes were horses then beggars could/would/might ride."

Ngram shows it going back to the 1800s, and digs up this book (and a few others) from 1896 containing a number of similar quotes. And it appears that "If wishes were horses" is a very popular book title.

I have heard renditions that included a few more phrases, though they were different from what's shown in that book.

  • On top of the up-vote and acceptance: thanks again! That expression conveys exactly the feeling I wanted to express! :-)
    – Fabby
    Apr 2, 2015 at 12:48

Welcome to the real world = Everything isn't always milk 'n cookies

[YAHOO! Answers] [slightly altered]

  • Both are good, so up-voted, but there is a comment by someone else that conveys the feeling I want to express more closely so I'm waiting for that one to be converted into an answer so I can accept it... Your 2nd one, I've never heard before, so I will be able to use that in the future, but if I understand correctly it only means "toughen up"... Correct?
    – Fabby
    Apr 1, 2015 at 7:43
  • Actually, I'd never heard the second before! It's not too common, if Google hits are anything to go by, but it's a transparent metaphor. The extensions come as a package (accept that life isn't a bed of roses <==> face reality <==> face up to reality <==> gird up your loins). As are implied by the far more common 'Welcome to the real world!' Apr 1, 2015 at 8:16

Two expressions come to mind. One is "Shit happens" which essentially the same sentiment (it has a military origin, I think) -- things happen, so deal with it. It's a bit vulgar, though, so can't be used in all situations.

The other is "It is what it is". I say that so often I abbreviate it to "It's what it's" (-:

  • 1
    That clipping to “It’s what it’s” isn’t really possible in English at all. I assume you’re fully aware of this and abbreviate the sentence exactly because it gives a disallowed form; but for the benefit of Fabby who is a non-native speaker and may not be aware, I thought I’d mention it. We don’t want to encourage people to go around saying things that don’t really work in ‘proper’ English. :-) Mar 31, 2015 at 22:27
  • Yes, not "good English". But still... cafepress.com/2050inc.725955232
    – Jim Mack
    Mar 31, 2015 at 22:42
  • @Janus Compare and contrast ' "proper" English' and 'standard English'. I yam what I yam. [Descartes or somebody] Mar 31, 2015 at 22:48
  • @EdwinAshworth I don’t think ‘standard’ English really apply here, because this contraction is (or should be, at least) heretic in all varieties and dialects of English, except for effect (where everything goes). Mar 31, 2015 at 22:54
  • I knew about the first one, but I was looking for something more sophisticated. :P ;-) Thank you for the second one (so up-voted). From your description, it was obvious even for a non-native English speaker like me that "It's what it's" was a personal abbreviation so non-standard English. ;-)
    – Fabby
    Apr 1, 2015 at 7:49

A somewhat applicable idiom is "I never promised you a rose garden." It's more familiar than the "horses/beggars" idiom, but it doesn't work in every situation, because it implies that the speaker has the power to provide what you're wanting, but can't/won't for some reason. It's not as generic as the "horses/beggars" idiom, which can simply mean "that's life".

  • Thank you for that one! Now I know what the song means... ;-) But the feeling I wanted to express was more the horses/beggars idiom then a rose garden, as the environment is out of my control... >:)
    – Fabby
    Apr 1, 2015 at 22:14

How about "c'est la vie" or one of its translations:

  • That's life.
  • Such is life. (works well in a sentence like ("Oh well; Such is life.")

Also related:

  • chin up and soldier on.

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