42

The Persian expression/ simile "____ is like an unopened (=uncut) watermelon" implies that you never know what the given (risky) issue/ choice will turn out to be until you proceed to experience or try it.

We use it specially for speaking about cases in which we have made a (risky) choice, picked up someone or something but we are not still sure if it has been a right choice; or just for speaking generally about making such choices with unknown consequences.

Examples:

  • Marriage is like an unopened watermelon: This is the most famous usage of this expression and implies that you cannot be sure if you have picked up the right person to marry. Just like when you pick up a watermelon, you'll notice if it's a good one (i.e. ripe and sweet) after cutting and eating it, you'll only notice if you have married 'The one' after experiencing the married life with him/ her (i.e. living under the same roof for some time).

  • Brexit is like an unopened watermelon: That means it is still not clear what will happen after Britain leaves the EU (i.e. if it will end up in a better or a worse condition).

Is there any idiom, expression or even a simile as the equivalent for this Persian expression in English (i.e. you won't know what will happen until you (proceed to) experience or try the given (risky) issue or choice)?

Unfortunately I couldn't find anything in my searches.

enter image description here

  • Comments are not for extended discussion or answers. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 27 '16 at 16:44

19 Answers 19

58

A crapshoot is a way of saying that a particular chance being taken will have an arbitrary result, and is slightly opinionated in that it suggests a "good" result is (somewhat) less likely, or at least is chancy (like anything random). Marriage is a crapshoot. You have to roll the dice. Note that the reference 'crapshoot' is to 'shooting craps', a dice game. (Thanks to @Sabre for underscoring this.)

The proof is in the pudding is an opinionated way of suggesting that only by sampling a thing will you know if it is good. (The expressed opinion is that it is, indeed, quality.) Is this the right marriage for me? The proof will be in the pudding. The older, more long-form way of saying this is 'The proof of the pudding is in the eating.', but you will often hear it shortened. (Thanks to Paul du Bois for pointing this out.)

Anyone's guess is a more neutral way of saying the result of a choice is uncertain. Whether the marriage will work out is anyone's guess.

48

Forrest Gump's mama said:

"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

  • 7
    I would hesitate to use this in the desired sense, since to me it's always had a certain 'laughing at the stupid' aspect to it (much like the movie, in fact). Every selection box of chocolates I've ever encountered has contained a little guide to the contents, so how anyone could not know what they're going to get is a mystery. – AakashM Jul 21 '16 at 13:36
  • You will always get chocolates. – Tulains Córdova Jul 21 '16 at 13:59
  • 3
    -1 This is not an idiom. It is a line from a movie. Has anyone in history ever used this phrase outside of the context of the movie or not as a joke? I highly doubt it. Also, in the movie, the line talks about not knowing what the future holds in general. It isn't talking about taking a risk. The point of a box of chocolates isn't that you'll wind up with unripened garbage sometimes (like with watermelon). The point is that it is all good, but still a surprise. – Shane Jul 22 '16 at 20:35
  • 2
    @Greg Bacon, OP didn't ask for an idiom but an expression. Later he included that it could be an idiom or a simile, which is what this is. As well, I didn't call it an idiom either. In fact, I contrasted it to an idiom by saying, "Unlike an idiom, this expression is self explanatory..." – Benjamin Harman Jul 22 '16 at 21:13
  • While this is just a line in a movie, the way it was used suggested that it might be a common expression among that class of people (southerners in Forest Gump's mother's generation). Few people come up with expressions like this on their own, they pick them up from others. – Barmar Jul 25 '16 at 17:27
21

A rather old-fashioned way of expressing this with a strong negative connotation is that the subject is a pig in a poke. A "poke" here means a sack, and if you bought a pig in a sack, the merchant could really have sold you something worthless - you don't know, because it's hidden inside the sack.

If, instead of a valuable pig/happy marriage, you instead received a worthless kitten/marriage full of strife and in-laws, then cat is out of the bag. (Whether this is the true etymology of this phrase is disputed, but it's a nice symmetry if it is. Snopes suggests that is unlikely the case as mistaking a cat for a pig would itself be unlikely. It's worth noting though that many other languages have the phrase "to buy a cat in a sack" with the same meaning as the English pig-phrase.)

I don't suggest you see this about anyone's marriage with their fianc(é)e in earshot, unless you know their sense of humour!

  • 5
    I always seen, "[buying] a pig in a poke" used to denote an obvious scam. "Why would you be so stupid as to buy a pig in a poke?" Not as "Eh, could go either way." – JS. Jul 21 '16 at 16:32
  • The pig in the poke was sometimes indeed a cat, so that's where "the cat is out of the bag" comes from. – RedSonja Jul 22 '16 at 11:08
  • 2
    I have always used/heard the cat is out of the bag to mean that a secret has been revealed to others, and cannot be made secret again. – Beta Jul 22 '16 at 11:09
  • @JS. that's sort of what I meant by the "negative connotation" - you wouldn't use it in a fifty-fifty situation, but you might nevertheless not be sure. – Chris Le Sueur Jul 22 '16 at 14:31
  • 1
    @ChrisLeSueur I agree with you, but Sonja obviously didn't or wasn't paying attention. I thought providing a link might help. – trentcl Jul 26 '16 at 14:14
19

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

This seems to be roughly parallel to your watermelon maxim, lacking implication of imminent action, use, or experience. (Cf. thefreedictionary.com.)

… you cannot judge the quality or character of someone or something just by looking at them …

  • 3
    I've always heard this as "Don't judge a book by its cover" and so it comes across more as a piece of advice to me, rather than the simple statement of uncertainity the poster was asking for. – zzxjoanw Jul 22 '16 at 8:15
  • @zzxjoanw I am guessing that I have heard it that way “Don’t judge …”. But I don’t remember it. I would agree that if someone said it in the same way that you said it, it would be a piece of advice. But with the different wording, there is a different meaning with which the Free Dictionary concurs. – David Eldridge Jul 22 '16 at 14:41
  • 2
    FWIW, I've heard it both ways. "You can't ...", indicating that this is a reality of life, and "Don't ...", indicating that this is advice. – Jay Jul 22 '16 at 20:41
14

An expression often used to suggest that you cannot know what the future may being is "you never can tell":

  • there is no way of knowing or being certain, esp. about the future: It sounds like a nice place to live, but you never can tell – we may end up hating it.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • 3
    Or simply, "You never know!" – erickson Jul 20 '16 at 20:30
  • A beautiful example of this expression in the Chuck Berry song g.co/kgs/0UNEcc – k1eran Jul 22 '16 at 0:56
12

You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. Reference, a column in the New York Times by William Safire. The first use in print, according to Safire, is an 1846 Punch cartoon, in which the phrase meant simply: take your pick. But Safire notes the meaning has changed:

''The phrase is used today,'' writes Edward C. Stephens, dean of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, ''not so much as an invitation to choice as it is a rejoinder to complaint. It seems to be similar in intent to 'You made your bed, now lie in it.'

That is, make your choice and take your chances.

  • 3
    Interestingly, I had always heard "chance" in this phrase rather than "choice". – Michael Seifert Jul 21 '16 at 16:37
  • @Michael Seifert That is an allele that I've seen too. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jul 21 '16 at 21:09
  • 1
    Usage note: you're supposed to say this phrase with an old-timey American accent. I originally thought this was to mimic people at carnivals pushing "games of skill," but ab2's source is making me wonder if the accent is supposed to be a reference to Huckleberry Finn instead. – WithScience Jul 22 '16 at 17:42
  • 2
    Another usage note: the non-standard grammar of you pays and you takes is part and parcel of this saying and should not be corrected to you pay and you take. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '16 at 21:15
10

Your situation is like Schrödinger's Cat, you don't know whether it is alive or dead until you open the box. Marriage and Brexit are both good examples of the Cat, we won't know for sure until more observation and experience has taken place.

The saying comes from a physics thought experiment by Erwin Schrödinger, intended to help explain a possible interpretation of quantum mechanics. (I won't go into any details here, you can read it in the link, but suffice it to say you should never let a quantum physicist take care of your cat while you go on vacation.) The poor cat is in a box with some contraption that will kill it if certain conditions are fulfilled. Only when the box is opened and someone observes and experiences the condition of the cat, is the Universe forced to choose whether or not those conditions exist. Until then, the cat is both alive and dead inside the box.

As a caveat, not all English speakers will necessarily understand. The idea is well-known amongst people with at least a passing interest in science. However, I am not sure whether it is gaining acceptance in the general populace. The internet may be helping with that.

  • 2
    You might paraphrase this further by simply using the word quantum, which the Cat is a demonstration of. – Nathaniel Ford Jul 20 '16 at 21:50
7

Another option is the expression "it's a lucky dip", which is a reference to a game where players pull packages from a large box or container with no idea what's in each package. You might get something really good, or not.

The saying "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" seems to fit best though as it's about quality. A pudding might look and smell really nice, but until you eat it, you don't really know if it's any good.

5

"Unopened letter" For example, "love's like a promise in an unopened letter---where nights full of pleasure seldom see the light of day....when life gets in the way" [quote from the 1991 Kathy Mattea recording of "Time Passes By," written by Jon Vezner and Susan Longacre]. In this specific example I guess the watermelon has been cut as it were, but its promise never fully appreciated, i.e., known.

4

Big unknown is used colloquially in the US.

Merriam Webster defines it as

"The important thing that everyone would like to know <The big unknown is how investors will react.>

3

You never know till you try.

You never know (what you can do) till you try.

TFD

"You won't know what will happen until you (proceed to) experience or try the given issue or choice."

  • 2
    It's not completely off target, but in my experience this phrase has been used as an optimistic approach towards potential failure. I have seen it typically used to suggest that the person proceed onward, even though they might fail. I am not Iranian so I don't know the idiom in the original question, but I get the impression that "it is like an unopened watermelon" is more neutral, describing the state of unknowning (and maybe the anxiety that goes with it), on a choice that has already been made. – Merlyn Morgan-Graham Jul 21 '16 at 9:05
  • @Merlyn - Not failure (in this case), disappointment. Some watermelons just suck. I was taken aback that this idiom wasn't here already, considering that it's what's left of the bold sentence after you take out a bunch of extra words. – Mazura Jul 21 '16 at 19:46
  • Yes, the watermelon phrase isn't about failure. The phrase "you never know (what you can do) until you try" is typically is applied to attempting to do something you might not succeed at. That's why I'm saying it isn't a perfect fit. – Merlyn Morgan-Graham Jul 21 '16 at 21:11
  • 1
    Or, similarly, "Don't knock it 'till you try it." – Dave Kanter Jul 22 '16 at 18:29
2

Don't count your chickens before they've hatched.

2

The Australians have "suck it and see."

Is it a sweet orange or a sour lemon? Suck it and see. You won't know for sure until you try.

  • 2
    I was always told that was an old electricians' trick for discovering if a wire was live or not. :) – TarkaDaal Jul 25 '16 at 10:48
1

As an oft-married man, I am inclined to say "a can of worms", using the original intent; however "a Pandora's box" might be more charitable, given that HOPE was the last to come out.

1

Entering uncharted territory Something is uncharted territory. It's like buying a cat in a bag.

  • As pointed out on the linked page, this is based on the "pig in a poke" metaphor, which was given in an earlier answer. Moreover, the "cat" in this case is analogous to the unripe watermelon in the question; that is, saying "the cat in the bag" implies that you already know you have gotten the worse outcome. – David K Jul 22 '16 at 15:44
1

Another related idiom that is used in certain circumstances (and there are many possible variations on it) is behind the (closed) door. For example:

The prospect of marriage is a closed door, and you won't know what's behind it until you open it.

Brexit voters chose to see what was behind door number 2.

This is usually used as a reference to game shows where a contestant is presented with two or more doors with possible prizes or bogus prizes behind each (most notably the 1960's game show, "Let's Make a Deal"). The second example is a pretty clear example of this metaphor; the contestant (Brexit voters) know what's behind one door (staying in the EU) but decided to take a chance, giving up their current prize for the potential of receiving an even greater prize, but at the risk of suffering a significant loss.

At other times it might be a reference to the Frank Richard Stockton short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (or similar works) wherein an accused criminal must open one of two doors to decide his fate, a lovely young lady to be his bride, or being killed by a ravenous tiger. You may see the phrase a lady or a tiger used as an idiom by itself, usually somewhat poetically:

Standing at the altar, he suddenly realized he wasn't sure if he was about to marry a lady or a tiger.

The long-term consequences of the Brexit vote have not yet been revealed—we don't know whether there is a lady or a tiger behind that door.

0

I more violent idiom, but still commonly used is to refer to something as a "mine field". As in, you don't know if the ground will blow up until you step on it.

This emphasizes not just that something is unknown, but that a risk is being taken by finding out.

As in:

I don't think I like this Brexit idea, feels like a bit of a mine field to me.

  • there is no positive outcome to a mine field – njzk2 Jul 22 '16 at 18:31
  • @njzk2 You walk through it successfully. That's the positive outcome. Just like with marriage. – Shane Jul 22 '16 at 20:38
-1

Such an unopened item can be called a Pandora's box.

It's a container that contains both good and evil things (but with the evil closer to the "exits.")

  • 3
    I don't see how you could liken a watermelon to Pandora's box. – dangph Jul 21 '16 at 5:39
  • 2
    I have noticed that some contributors have almost no imagination, and do not hesitate to jump all over people who exhibit the slightest the slightest spark of creativity. – Cascabel Jul 21 '16 at 17:58
  • 6
    @Gandalf, a Pandora's box necessarily contains bad things. A watermelon in contrast may be good or bad. These are two distinct concepts. – dangph Jul 22 '16 at 1:27
  • 3
    @TomAu, Pandora's box unleashed horrors upon the world. The hope left in the box is irrelevant. Marriage may turn out to be good or or it may turn out to be bad. Brexit may turn out to be good or to be bad. A watermelon may turn out to be good or to be bad. We cannot say that a Pandora's box may turn out to be good or to be bad. A Pandora's box is just bad. – dangph Jul 22 '16 at 4:48
  • 1
    I think this is a "sort of". The routine understanding of Pandora's Box is that it was full of bad things (and the small hope), and that Pandora was foolish to open it, that she did something dumb because she couldn't restrain her curiousity. The point isn't that it was unknowable, though I suppose it was, but rather that it was bad. And now that I think of it, that's a wonderful lesson that we should all teach our children: Never be curious or try to learn anything new, because the results will probably be horrible. It's better to just do as you're told and keep your mouth shut. :-0 – Jay Jul 22 '16 at 20:47
-1

A not so common expression that I like is:

"It's a mixed bag."

Referring to those little bags of candy you get from corner stores. They contain a random assortment of sweets, so you don't know if it will contain the good ones, or the ones you hate.

I don't think this expression is common, but I think it should be :)

  • 7
    For me, a "mixed bag" means good and bad things in one bag, and is generally used in response to a question about the outcome of an event or action. If it's a mixed bag, then the outcome resulted in some good and some not–so–good things. – RobG Jul 21 '16 at 5:44

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