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The Kurdish proverb every ripe and delicious cantaloupe (muskmelon) is eaten by a donkey is one of the most interesting proverbs that I have heard in four languages, including Kurdish, Persian, English and German. I personally use this proverb frequently.

It is obvious that the proverb is a humorous one. It is used in different contexts. Generally it is used when something good is given to an undeserving case. But, in modern usage, many people use it when they want to say that a beautiful, attractive and comely woman marries a ugly, unattractive and grotesque man. This proverb is often used by male sex. The speaker is usually someone who carries a torch for the girl. Sometimes the speaker says this proverb jealously.

A: I can not believe that Sara has married this plain man.

B: It is not strange. Every sweet cantaloupe is eaten by a donkey. She has probably married money.

Also there is a Persian proverb that resembles the Kurdish one: The ripe grapes are given to jackals.

Is there a proverb that would express the same thing in English? Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any equivalent in German either.

  • 3
    It's sort of like "casting pearls before swine," but not exactly. – Casey Aug 9 '17 at 23:21
  • @Casey that is something else . We have suitable equivalents for what you are saying . – kazhvan Aug 9 '17 at 23:33
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    It's not a proverb, but this one falls in line to "sugar daddy", "milking someone for their worth", and "the good ones are always taken". As a proverb I'm not sure if there is an expression that works in that sense? – psosuna Aug 10 '17 at 0:28
  • I understand the feeling of chagrin that the fruit are ruined by someone who is unable to appreciate them. I have a similar response to a squirrel in my back yard that bites into plums when they become ripe. – Al Maki Aug 10 '17 at 0:48
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    @Drew How are they similar? – Spagirl Aug 15 '17 at 13:58

11 Answers 11

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Rosalind Fergusson, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs (1983) lists two proverbs that seem exactly on point, although I have never heard either one spoken in the wild:

Into the mouth of the worst dog, often falls a good bone.

and

The worst hog often gets the best pear.

Since Ferusson doesn't specify where her proverbs come from, I was a bit suspicious of these two. However, G.L. Apperson, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (1929), reprinted as The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs (1993), cites "Into the mouth of of a bad dog often falls a good bone" in proverb collections from 1639 (Clarke), 1670 (Ray), and 1732 (Fuller); and Wolfgang Mieder, A Dictionary of American Proverbs (1992) notes a recorded occurrence of the same proverb from New York state, although Mieder say that the saying originated in France.

As for the hog-and-pear proverb, Bartlet Whiting, Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (1977) reports an instance of a similar saying, "The worst pig often gets the best pear," in an English periodical from 1809; other sources claim that the proverb originated in Spain or Italy.

In any event, the two sayings cited above have been recorded in English for at least two centuries and thus may qualify as naturalized English proverbs.


UPDATE (September 2, 2017)

With regard to the Englishness and the proverbiality of these two sayings, Wolfgang Mieder, The Prentice-Hall Encyclopedia of World Proverbs (1986)—which identifies the country or continent of origin for each of the proverbs it lists—has these entries:

3977. Into the mouth of a bad dog often falls a good bone. English

...

12492. The worst pig often gets the best pear. English

although it also has listings for "A good dog never gets a good bone. French," "The pig snatches the best apple. Yiddish," and "The worst pig gets the best acorn. Spanish."

Whether a saying that appears in relatively few published works may nevertheless qualify as a proverb is a question that invites subjective answers. But multiple proverb collections that I consulted include one or both of the sayings given in this answer as English proverbs.

  • Intriguing proverbs, @Sven Yargs, and I upvote! Many members including myself would be glad to see you back in action after a few days' gap, here at ELU. – English Student Aug 21 '17 at 23:40
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    There are only 45 results on Google for the suggested proverb The worst hog often "gets the best pear" And many of those hits are from translation sites. I would not state it is an established English proverb, I would have said it is virtually unknown outside recondite literary circles. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '17 at 6:08
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    Again there are only 45 hits for the phrase "often falls a good bone" Which strongly suggests that the proverb (Into the mouth of the worst dog, often falls a good bone.) is arcane, virtually unknown and, ultimately, nonviable for the OP's purpose. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '17 at 6:17
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Nice Guys Finish Last is often used to mean that women seem to prefer men who treat them poorly to men who treat them well, even though it originated in baseball (attributed to Leo Durocher) and can be applied to many other areas of life besides romantic partners.

In Marcia Gage's Soulmate Hunting After 40, the phrase is explained and supported:

Women do not always have the best reputation when it comes to romantic interludes either. It seems there is some merit to the myth that nice guys finish last. In studies with mostly younger women participants, it does appear many women bypass the sweet thoughtful guy for the macho jerk. The good news is most of the relationships are (sometimes intentionally) temporary.

It's not always used to describe romantic relationships. In addition to the sports environment where the maxim started, it is often used in business. Craig Hall writes in The Responsible Entrepreneur:

Throughout my childhood, I constantly heard that "nice guys finish last." The popular thinking was that to succeed, one must be tough, selfish, and ready to do whatever it takes to beat the other side. Somehow, I always sensed that was not correct.

So there is some overlap between cantaloupes are eaten by donkeys and nice guys finish last, but the Kurdish saying applies to more kinds of undesirable men and the English saying applies to more areas than just romance.

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+150

Beauty and the beast is a proverbial saying that is sometimes found applied to an ugly man with a beautiful wife, as in this picture -- see title and read this description at the bottom of the page:

Description: A humorous take on “Beauty and the Beast” - a very ugly man with a beautiful wife gets the wrong end of the stick. From “Punch Almanack for 1865”. Punch was a British magazine newspaper founded in 1841, famous for its humorous and satirical cartoons which were created by some of the foremost illustrators of the day: the Almanack was a supplement.

And this article (scroll down to middle paragraphs):

The study suggests that most ugly men who married attractive women were happy to bask in the glory of their partner’s beauty and enjoyed the prestige of having a beautiful wife. (...) Women have always been fascinated by The Beauty and The Beast syndrome.

And in this article which conveys the same meaning as the previous one:

[Why women want ugly husbands] We’ve all seen this situation: an exquisite, drop-dead gorgeous woman walking hand in hand with a dude who is much, much less attractive than she is...right? Kind of like a Beauty and the Beast-type situation, but not as ugly? I know I definitely see it on a daily basis.

Although 'beauty and the beast' is actually a sentimental fairytale, the expression seems to fit your description rather well, in a humorous and/or ironic sense:

A: I can not believe that Sara has married this plain man.

B: It is not strange. It is Beauty and the Beast.

  • A scholarly analysis of 'Beauty and the Beast' especially in the context of 'ugly husband beautiful wife' with references to parallel tales and proverbs can be found here at ww.oxfordreference.com, @kazhvan. – English Student Aug 23 '17 at 6:34
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If you want to focus on the monetary aspect, there is this proverb:

A golden key unlocks any door.

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Toast always falls buttered-side down.

Bad luck is part of life, and good things inevitably go to waste. England has a cooler climate than the Kurdish regions, so its food-based proverbs are slightly different.

  • On a similar note, Murphy's Law – Crosscounter Aug 15 '17 at 19:29
  • The thought of Murphy made me Google "potato proverbs" and then "whiskey proverbs". But no luck. – Global Charm Aug 16 '17 at 2:27
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There is a colloquial expression in English, Nice guys finish last. Wiktionary describes its meaning:

People who are decent, friendly, and agreeable tend to be unsuccessful because they are outmaneuvered or overwhelmed by others who are not so decent, friendly, or agreeable.

This phrase is often uttered in the same context you describe, when a man believes that someone else has received something undeserving, because they are unbound by the rules of decency and fairness. Of course, it does differ from your proverb in the sense that it is focused on the personality of the other, as opposed to their looks. In other words, it doesn't usually imply that the other person is "ugly," "unattractive," or "grotesque." Like the proverb you cite, it is often used in cases where someone is jealous of what someone else has received.

The expression like casting pearls before swine sounds more reminiscent of The ripe grapes are given to jackals. However, you indicated that this is not the expression you're seeking.

For background context on nice guys finish last, it is often attributed to baseball player Leo Durocher. However, it is actually a paraphrasing of what Durocher said, according to The New Yorker:

What Leo Durocher actually said (referring to the New York Giants baseball team) was “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.” The sportswriters who heard him telescoped (the technical term is “piped”) the quote because it made a neater headline. They could have done a better job of piping. “Nice guys finish seventh” is a lot cleverer (and also marginally more plausible) than the non-utterance that gave immortality to Leo Durocher.

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It isn't nearly as colorful as the cantelopes and donkeys, but how about:

Sometimes good things happen to bad people.

Often someone (theoretically a nice but not so lucky person) will follow that phrase up with a phrase such as, "Don't worry, he'll get his," or "what comes around goes around," meaning that eventually bad things will catch up with the bad guy, too. (Karma's a bitch, or so they say!)

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The Kurdish proverb makes two observations: all the good ones are taken, and the ones who took them are looked down upon.

There are a couple of idioms in English that address these issues (separately) from somewhat different angles.

  1. Instead of focusing narrowly at the spot in which others have taken all the good rockmelons, cast your gaze wider:

There are plenty of fish in the sea. Fig. There are other choices. (Used to refer to persons.) When John broke up with Ann, I told her not to worry. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. It's too bad that your secretary quit, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea. - The Free Dictionary

  1. Instead of focusing on her poor catch, consider his perspective:

Punch above one's weight The term is often used figuratively in situations where someone finds themselves competing outside their usual class; for example, the Irish comedian Graham Norton described that, since becoming well-known, he was able to attract better-looking partners than previously and that he was 'punching above my weight' when it comes to relationships. - The Phrase Finder

  • This is good advice, perhaps, but it doesn't answer the question. – Spencer Aug 19 '17 at 14:16
  • @Spencer The question asked for an English equivalent to a Kurdish proverb. I couldn't think of a direct equivalent, but offered a couple that together cover similar territory (the first sentence in my answer indicates which aspects of that territory the English proverbs cover). Individual words often don't translate completely; proverbs pose a similar challenge. – Lawrence Aug 19 '17 at 16:12
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This is a good question. I believe the answer depends on whether or not we're talking specifically about partner relationships or on a more global level.

In relationships, I feel the closest we have is

[It is a sad fact that] good girls go for bad boys. (Certainly this is not universally true.)

This goes deeper than the sexual into the psychological roots of what it means to be good or bad, but the end result is the same as the example you give. It can be used humorously in an ironic sort of way, say, She is such a good girl she'll probably wind up with a bad boy. Anything else I can add on the topic would likely be offensive. Also, it's questionable whether this is an idiom per se as opposed to a common sentiment, and one need not go beyond the literal meaning.

On a global perspective, the best I can come up with is

Every rose has its thorns.

This usually speaks to a single object that looks great on the outside but has some ugly parts on the interior - either metaphorically or practically. In terms of humor, it can once again be used ironically, but it is usually used in a defamatory way.

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Every dog has his day

  1. Said to emphasize that everyone is successful or happy at some time in their life

  2. Even the lowest of us enjoys a moment of glory.

Sources:

  1. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/every-dog-has-its-day
  2. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/every-dog-has-his-day

Example

Person 1: "I can't believe Jon married Stacey, how'd he pull that off?"

Person 2: "Well, you know, every dog has his day"

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Opposites attract.

Used to explain the phenomenon of dissimilar people taking a strong or romantic interest in each other.

protected by MetaEd Aug 22 '17 at 18:36

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