"An ox forgot [how it was] when it was a calf" is used to describe a person that has no mercy/is harsh on someone younger when he makes a mistake. Generally speaking, the older one pretends to be Mr. Know-it-all despite the fact that he also made the same mistake, or generally made mistakes, when he was younger. How can we say the same thing in English?

Because there is no direct translation: if I said this idiom to you (that has never heard it before) would you get the meaning?

  • 1
    Supposedly, the equivalent is "The (parish) priest forgets that he was a clerk"... but I've never heard this English idiom! internationalcongress.aiesec.org/2016/04/19/polish-sayings (Now that I've read that article, I wonder: where does "beka" come from?)
    – herisson
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 21:17
  • 1
    "Remember your roots" or something like that comes to mind.
    – NVZ
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 21:29
  • The quite opposite proverb (forgiving young's mistakes) is "A ragged colt may make a good horse".
    – Graffito
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 21:54
  • 6
    @NVZ 'We were all young once'. Commented May 11, 2016 at 0:34
  • @sumelic: I have no idea where "beka" comes from nor what it means in Polish (not even after reading that article you linked to), but in Hungarian, béka means "frog".
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 15:31

5 Answers 5


Just like Edwin commented, there's this phrase I might have heard at times.

"We were all young once"

Couldn't find any dictionary reference, but googling sure gives me some examples of it being used.

Another one that came to mind is

"Remember your roots"

There are many variations to this and it's not a set phrase as such.

Then there's a not-so-related proverb. This does not mean the exact thing you require but can be used to imply that all beginners will make some mistakes.

"You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"

From Wiktionary

In order to achieve something, it is inevitable and necessary that something should be destroyed


We have pretty much same one in S.Korea, "A frog doesn't remember those days when it was a tadpole." We use it when someone laugh at young people and how they make mistakes, as if he/she didn't make those mistakes when they were younger.


What's the matter with kids today?

This, and its variants, is a common meme in US usage. There is a song in the musical, Bye Bye Birdie which enshrines the phrase

Kids, you can talk and talk till your face is blue

Kids, but they still do just what they want to do

Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?

What's the matter with kids today?

  • After reading lyrics I get the ironic meaning but I'm afraid that if I use this one sentence alone in conversation with one that doesn't know the context of the lyrics he will understand it completely opposite to what I'd like to express. Anyway thanks for the tip
    – Colonder
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 12:13
  • @Colonder I agree. My family knows the context, but to strangers I might repeat the last 2 lines.
    – bib
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 14:29

He forgot where he came from is used, but I think more in the sense of having come up in the world economically than having grown older.


Though not precisely what you may be looking for, this quote possibly sums up the entire message.

Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.
— J. K. Rowling.

And yes, never having heard the idiom before I could grasp what you were trying to convey.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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