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In some languages (for example Russian) there is a very famous phrase about something that is forbidden or not possible, but can be done if very desired.

Если нельзя, но очень хочется, то можно

Direct translation would be "If it is forbidden, but very desired, then it is possible".

It can be applicable for anything, like for science/technology in a good way, for people relations in a bad way (like it is forbidden to have a mistress, but if you really want you can) etc.

Is there something like this in English?

I found one by Oscar Wilde "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it", but can it be applicable not only to bad things like alcohol etc, but to science, technology?

For example, if it is well know that computer program cannot do this, but someone really did it. Can this phrase be used in that case?

Or maybe there is phrase which can be used in science/technology only. I am looking for this one (for science/technology).

Let's say (artificial example, of course) I am writing an article about possible ways to travel faster than light, or to travel to other stars, and I want to use it as an epigraph.

UPDATE1: Can I use phrase from Alice in Wonderland? "The only way to achieve the impossible, is to believe it's possible." but I think it is from movie, not from book.

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    No, the quote from Oscar Wilde has a different meaning: he is saying that the way to get rid of something that is tempting is to fall for the temptation!! ie the cake is tempting, so just eat it! then its not tempting any more. – user66974 Feb 20 '17 at 13:33
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    You mean that Russian has a famous figure of speech, and that you wonder if English has an equivalent? How much fame (i.e. notority) do you require of the English version? Would it help if you provided the ру́сский version and its cultural context? – can-ned_food Feb 21 '17 at 13:42
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    Your original question uses the term "forbidden" - which suggests that the preventing factor is some external authority or moral code, but in your replies to answers, you use the term "impossible" - which is a different proposition ! Of course we may think something is "impossible" because our understanding of the problem or laws is imperfect ... – MikeW Feb 21 '17 at 17:05
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    A guy I used to work with once said "We weren't smart enough to know we couldn't do it, so we did it." – Pete Becker Feb 21 '17 at 19:37
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    it's possible you are looking for "Laws were made to be broken". – Fattie Feb 24 '17 at 13:19

14 Answers 14

99

You may use: where there's a will there's a way:

  • used to mean that if you are determined enough, you can find a way to achieve what you want, even if it is very difficult

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Also:

will power:

  • The strength of will to carry out one's decisions, wishes, or plans.
  • You may say that it is only a question of will power to achieve to do something.

(AHD)

  • This one looks good "where there's a will there's a way". But can I use it for something really impossible, like traveling with speed faster than speed of light? Let's say (artificial example of course) I am writing an article about possible ways to traveling faster than light or traveling to another stars and I want to use it as epigraph. – Zlelik Feb 20 '17 at 13:33
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    The saying can be applied to whatever context you like. The idea is that there is no real limit to doing or achieving something if you really are determined to do it. – user66974 Feb 20 '17 at 13:35
  • @Zlelik - yes, "where there's a will there's a way" would work perfectly in that context. You can imagine a scifi book ... "For four hundred years, the Humes physics told them that FTL travel was impossible. But, where there's a will there's a way. And the way was the UhOhDrive - all it took was two young physicists - her lanky, him with his discrete bodybuilder's physique under the geek outfit - one late night in the laboratory with a skirt far too short and a vodka cabinet far too unlocked, and two accidents - one mathematical and one of a more personal nature..." That sort of thing. – Fattie Feb 24 '17 at 13:27
  • As I mention above "Necessity is the mother of invention" is pretty much interchangeable with "where there's a will there's a way..." – Fattie Feb 24 '17 at 13:28
31

If "very desired" can be approximated to "having faith", you may use "Faith will move mountains". This also goes quite well with the alternative already considered ("The only way to achieve the impossible, is to believe it's possible.").

TFD(idioms):

Faith will move mountains.
Prov. If you believe in what you are doing, you can overcome any obstacle. (Sometimes refers to faith in God.)
Jane's faith in her cause could move mountains.
You may feel disheartened sometimes, but remember that faith will move mountains.

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

23

To use it as an epigraph, you’d probably first have to decide whether to use the Latin or English version (although using both could be cool) and then whether to attribute it to Hannibal, ... Philip Sidney, ... or no one at all; but I think the notion of “not knowing the meaning of impossible” would be relevant and captured well by:

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam:
I'll either find a way or make one.

(links to softschools.com; Wiikipedia; motivated.us; brainyquote.com; and boardofwisdom.com, respectively)

16

Consider the phrase doing the impossible.

Impossible adjective 1 Not able to occur, exist, or be done. ‘An impossible dream, I told myself, but it was what I wanted.’ - ODO

Here's a similar quote:

Difficult is done at once, the impossible takes a little longer, the proverbial saying, late 19th century; in the first recorded usage, Trollope's novel Phineas Redux (1873), the words are attributed to ‘a French Minister’, the French statesman Charles Alexandre de Calonne (1734–1842), who is said to have responded, ‘Madame, si c'est possible, c'est fait; impossible? cela se fera [Madam, if a thing is possible, consider it done; the impossible? that will be done].’ In modern times, the US Armed Forces have taken as their slogan, ‘The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.’ - encyclopedia.com

And here's an example used in the context of technology:

The startup that's doing the impossible - TechRepublic

Of course, if something is truly impossible, it literally cannot be done. These sayings can be taken as a form of bravado, or they can be using impossible in the sense of seemingly impossible or perhaps hitherto impossible.

13

In addition to Josh's answer, depending on what it is that fuels the desire for something difficult or forbidden, to be nonetheless done (specifically, being in dire straits or having no other resort) you could use needs must (or in full, needs must when the devil drives).

Meaning

Necessity compels. In current usage this phrase is usually used to express something that is done unwillingly but with an acceptance that it can't be avoided; for example, I really don't want to cook tonight, but needs must, I suppose.

Origin

The phrase is old. In earlier texts it is almost always given in its fuller form - needs must when the devil drives. That is, if the devil is driving you, you have no choice. This dates back to Middle English texts, for example Assembly of Gods, circa 1500:

"He must nedys go that the deuell dryues."

Shakespeare used the phrase several times; for example, in All's Well That Ends Well, 1601:

Countess: Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.
Clown: My poor body, madam, requires it:
       I am driven on by the flesh; and he
       must needs go that the devil drives.

As quotations go, you have "They didn't know it was impossible, so they did it" by Mark Twain, or "Nothing is impossible to a willing heart" by John Heywood.

A more religious take is that nothing is impossible to God, while a cynical person will observe that very little is impossible to those who don't have to do it themselves.

A somewhat different (and more ambiguous) view and quotation is supplied by Guillaume Apollinaire, Come to the edge, and is usually shortened in "he pushed them, and they flew". One way of looking at it is that if one desires it enough, he can fly, even if he was afraid and thought it impossible; so, it might be a good match for your question.

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    "But needs must, when the devil vomits into your kettle" - Blackadder :-) – user1108 Feb 21 '17 at 16:21
  • +1 I had no idea that's where 'needs must' came from! – EleventhDoctor Feb 23 '17 at 16:44
  • Always wanted to know who had said "they didn't know it was impossible, so they did it". I only knew that phrase in Portuguese, and never thought to look it up in English. Thank you! – Andre Terra Feb 24 '17 at 4:09
7

I'm not quite sure I get your meaning, but at least when emphasizing forbidden (over impossible) the phrase that comes to my mind is forbidden fruit. This, of course, comes from the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve, who are directed by God not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Though forbidden, they desired to eat the fruit and (coaxed by the serpent) did so. The consequences were disastrous — at least according to traditional readings of the scripture.

To take your example of faster-than-light travel, humans in some sci-fi parable may be tempted to try it out, despite having been forbidden by physicists, with calamitous results as they detach themselves from the spacetime continuum of our cosmos.

On the other hand, it is also used somewhat tongue-in-cheek to describe something that is deeply and passionately desired, but not entirely allowed on some level. One might even argue that this is a better interpretation of the story as literature: seeing the god figure as an overbearing, petty, and selfish authority who is in many ways abusive to humans; and seeing their exile from paradise as a liberation.

If you're looking for a relevant quotation for an epigraph, I guess you could select something from this:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'


Of course, I think it's pretty universally agreed that the objectively best "forbidden fruit" story is Homer Simpson's forbidden donut. But I'm not sure that's a good fit for an epigraph.

6

I am still unclear if the task you are referring to is one that is, or is thought to be impossible or one that is prohibited. If the latter is the case, the phrase that immediately comes to mind is:

It is easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission

This quote, or its variant:

If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission

is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, but I do not know if she originally came up with it.

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    This addresses the 'forbidden' part; most other answers address the 'impossible' part. – smci Feb 23 '17 at 21:19
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if the mountain won't come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain

proverb
If someone won't do as you wish or a situation can't be arranged to suit you, you must accept it and change your plans accordingly.

Oxford Living Dictionaries

First printed in 1625, this famous proverb is said to be coined by Francis Bacon, and subsequently quoted in a book of English proverbs in 1670.

The version: if the mountain won't come to you, you must go to the mountain is also used. From the comments below, @Peteris tells me that the following variant is also heard

If Muhammad won't go to the mountain, the mountain should be brought to Muhammad

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    @NVZ apparently not. It might have been inspired by a Turkish proverb Though widely associated with Muhammad, the prophet of Islam who lived in Arabia in 6th century, there is no written or oral tradition that traces this phrase back to him. There is however, a phrase in Turkish, "Dağ sana gelmezse, sen dağa gideceksin…" ("If the mountain won't come to you, you must go to the mountain") that has no reference to Muhammad, known as one of the "atasözleri", or common sayings that exist in modern Turkish, but are thought to have much older origins. Wiktionary – Mari-Lou A Feb 21 '17 at 15:41
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    But, dictionary.com/browse/… says it was indeed from the Prophet Mohammed of Islamic faith, and Arabic language. – NVZ Feb 21 '17 at 15:46
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    Isn't this the opposite of what the Asker is looking for? The question seemed to be about not accepting that the presence of a mountain can be a hindrance, rather than accommodating to it? – Spagirl Feb 21 '17 at 16:14
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    @Spagirl would you agree that it is physically impossible to move a mountain? If we want something done, if we want to achieve anything, then we have to find ways to overcome natural and manmade barriers, and find alternative measures. That is how I have always interpreted the saying. – Mari-Lou A Feb 21 '17 at 16:58
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    I've also heard the counterpoint proverb "If Muhammad won't go to the mountain, the mountain should be brought to Muhammad", with parallels to proverbs about literally moving mountains. – Peteris Feb 23 '17 at 13:06
5

“They did not know it was impossible so they did it” Mark Twain.

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    @Hank I don't know how this answer fits. But hey, They did not know it was forbidden so they did it – NVZ Feb 21 '17 at 15:59
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    @Hank The OP asked about "something that is forbidden or not possible" so this fits the question. – MetaEd Feb 21 '17 at 16:35
  • @MetaEd You are correct. I mistakenly read it as looking for something that gave off that it was both impossible and forbidden, not a phrase with just a blank to fill in either word. My mistake. – Hank Feb 21 '17 at 16:37
4

If you're leaning more toward forbidden then you could be describing a task that is Taboo which could be used as:

  • An Adjective: "Mount Sinai is a taboo mountain"
  • A Noun: "It is taboo to climb Mount Sinai"
  • A Verb: "The climbing of Mount Sinai is tabooed"

EDIT:

Also on the forbidden end of the spectrum: The Nuclear Option is being thrown around a lot now in politics:

The name is an analogy to nuclear weapons being the most extreme option in warfare

3

You can get it if you really want

"You Can Get It If You Really Want" is a famous reggae song written and performed by the Jamaican reggae singer songwriter Jimmy Cliff, a famous version of which was later recorded by Desmond Dekker.

The lyrics inform the meaning:

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last, mmh, yeah

Persecution you must fear
Win or lose you're about to get your share
Got your mind set on a dream
You can get it though hard it may seem now

You can get it if you really want...

Listen, Rome was not built in a day
Opposition will come your way
But the harder the battle, you see
Is the sweeter the victory now

You can get it if you really want...

2

The phrase you are looking for is "Anything is possible if you want it badly enough".

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    We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Please explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed. – Hank Feb 21 '17 at 15:30
  • Sorry. The phrase is common and means more or less what NVZ was looking for. Anything is possible, even things usually deemed impossible if the person trying to achieve it has sufficient desire. So to break it down, impossible becomes possible with sufficient desire. This more or less matches the original russian phrase quoted in the question: "If it is forbidden, but very desired, then it is possible". Again, impossible becomes possible with sufficient desire. – Kieran Anthony Penrice Feb 22 '17 at 10:22
  • Information needs to be added to the answer, not the comments. – Hank Feb 22 '17 at 13:19
  • This will be a great answer if expanded on. – barbecue Feb 22 '17 at 18:17
2

People saying: “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.

Origins are murky, but explored here. Possibly Puck Magazine.

1

Rising to the challenge: If someone rises to the challenge, they act in response to a difficult situation which is new to them and are successful.

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