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We all have heard this proverb in Urdu and Hindi

धोबी का कुत्ता न घर का न घाट का

Literal translation

The dog of the washerman belongs to neither the riverbank nor the house

An alternative:

The dog that runs after two bones, catches neither

The original Hindi proverb suggests the idea if someone comments on you

धोबी का कुत्ता न घर का न घाट का

They mean to say you are caught between two things because you do not belong to either of two things, or because you try to do two different things and fails at both.

This proverb was used by Mirza Saud who was a renowned Urdu poet, for Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e-Janaan's poetry as a scorn. Mirza Mazhar was a renowned poet of Persian. He later on did some stupendous and chromatic poetry in Urdu as well, however, initially he was not very comfortable in Urdu poetry.

His instructor advised him to start poetry in Urdu instead of Persian as the days of Persian poetry in India were numbered in his view. Mirza Mazhar's initial experiment in Urdu poetry was a disaster. The Urdu poets of his time did not take his arrival in their domain with joy. He was barraged by insult and one such poetic insult became proverbial:

[cut off by OP]

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Community Jun 3 at 14:33

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  • There's you can't ride two horses [with one ass], and the expression caught between two stools. There's a fable about a donkey that starved because it couldn't decide which way to go - I think that's where the grass is always greener came from, but that doesn't really have the meaning you are after. The dog that runs after two bones gets neither works fine in English, which is not always true of Hindi/Urdu sayings (which is larger, your intelligence or a cow?) – Minty Jun 3 at 13:09
  • Yeah, I just googled and found a dog that runs... is an English saying but translated both by myself by thinking. I didn't ever know it's an English proverb – Chammak Challo Jun 3 at 13:29
  • Now I am really sure that saying was copied by an anglophone – Chammak Challo Jun 3 at 13:36
  • The person edited the question seems highly educated – Chammak Challo Jun 6 at 19:41
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I think there are a couple of idioms/proverbs that might be applicable:

Jack of all trades, master of none:

...a figure of speech used in reference to a person who has dabbled in many skills, rather than gaining expertise by focusing on one.

However, this phrase can also be used to mean someone who is well-versed in many things, or is better than someone who's just well-versed at one thing:

The shortened version "a jack of all trades" is often a compliment for a person who is good at fixing things, and has a very good broad knowledge. A "Jack of all trades" may be a master of integration, as such an individual who knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring the individual's disciplines together in a practical manner. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist.

There is also a longer version "Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one" which refers to a person who is not the best at all skills, but is better than someone who is only a master of one.


Another applicable idiom might be No man can serve two masters, from Matthew 6:24 of the Christian New Testament:

No man can serve two masters: For either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other, Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

This is often abbreviated to simply, "No one can serve 2 masters".

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