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Is there an equivalent in English to the following Catalan expression?

'Gent jove, pa tou', literally 'Young people, soft bread', referring to the fact that young people are too inexperienced to be given certain difficult tasks, where hardship is needed. The analogy is that bread gets harder with time, and young people are not hard enough (soft bread) because they are still too young.

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4 Answers 4

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You can say that someone is still wet behind the ears, implying that they haven't finished drying out after birth. This is used to say that they do not understand yet, or are not ready for a task.

According to Wiktionary (but I have not verified the sources), its etymology is from

c. 1850, Pennsylvania, calque from German feucht hinter den Ohren.
From the drying of amniotic fluid on a baby after birth, specifically a new-born farm animal, which last dries behind the ears (partly because licked dry by mother everywhere else). German variants (still wet behind the ears, not yet dry behind the ears, green behind the ears) also borrowed.

According to this clipping quoted in "Green behind the ears": the untold story, by Ben Zimmer at the Language Log, the expression has been an Americanism since at latest the 1870s:

The Newcomerstown "Eye," a new paper, has already got into a squabble with an editor named Persinger, at Bloomington, Illinois. The Bloomington man should wait until the Eye gets dry behind the Ears. — (New Philadelphia) Ohio Democrat, May 2, 1878, p. 4, col. 3

You have to love the tongue-in-cheekness: "The Eye gets dry behind the ears".

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  • That's a good one! I wonder if there is another one where there is the same connotation as 'toughening up' as bread getting tougher over time.
    – 719016
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 19:01
  • This makes me think of someone who is weathered, one who has already been hardened by other tasks. Is that more your focus?
    – livresque
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 3:37
  • @livresque I always understood it in exactly the sense that the Wiktionary quote (which I added now) explains, but it may have more extensions. I wish I knew German to investigate a little further. Full disclosure: I was born in Pennsylvania, and lived there for ten years.
    – Conrado
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 12:56
  • @719016 I think that Mike Roger's answer keeps the connotation of "toughening up" very well.
    – Conrado
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 15:02
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    Not to stick my neck in, but you've got to have a good head on your shoulders to think of adding two more body parts to 'You have to love the tongue-in-cheekness: "The Eye gets dry behind the ears'.". Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 20:26
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You could say he's as green as grass or green behind the ears (alternative of wet behind the ears).

Green as grass: Completely inexperienced or naive.

Example: The job we had to do was wholly new, and we were all as green as grass.
[Collins Dictionary]

As the name suggest, it comes from green wood that is freshly cut and not yet dried or aged, and is thus not suitable for working yet because it's still wet (inexperienced), so I think it fits the bill.


Another idiom would be babe/child in the woods.

Babe in the woods: A person who is gullible, naïve, or lacks experience in a specific situation.

Example: Although Jane had always excelled in school, she felt like a babe in the woods when she began attending college.
[The Free Dictionary]


Never send a boy to do a man's job could also be used.

Never send a boy to do a man's job: Avoid assigning challenging tasks to those that are inexperienced or otherwise incapable of completing them.

Example: I should have known better than to have an intern proofread that letter—never send a boy to do a man's job, right?
[The Free Dictionary]

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    "Green as grass" can also be simplified as just "green" as in "Joe just started the job last week, he is very green"
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 15:59
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    @KevinWells, Yes. And as far as I know, it comes from 'green wood' that is freshly cut and not yet dried...... Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:01
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    I think you're right, just wanted to point out to the OP that they can use a more abbreviated version of the phrase, which is also more commonly used in my experience
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:03
  • My understanding is that "green" refers to inexperience in a particular task (at any age) - whereas "wet behind the ears" refers specifically to inexperience because of a young age.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 19:41
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    @Conrado Thanks. Interesting. Certainly, if Obama said "I'm green behind the ears", he was referring to lack of experience rather than to being of a young age!
    – TrevorD
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 22:27
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The old dog for the hard road.

This expression means that experience is invaluable when one is faced with a difficult task. "The case calls for an experienced lawyer, an old dog for a hard road."

It's used to describe a person who has survived many difficulties and has learned much from the experiences.

There are certain tasks that require seasoned judgement and resilience. It would be a mistake, to entrust such an onerous challenge to a novice.

Refs e.g.

https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/24/messages/136.html

https://www.learn-english-today.com/idioms/idiom-alphalists/alpha-list_D/id_D6-dog-doghouse.html

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    I've never heard this phrase but I like it!
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 15:52
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The expression “be raw” can suggest the idea:

used to refer to a person who is not trained or is without experience:

  • I would prefer not to leave this job to John while he's still a raw recruit/beginner.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

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    A 'callow youth' has resonances here. 'Callow' originally meant 'bald', and the transferred usage was a reflection on the fact that very young birds have not yet grown their [among other things!] protective feathers. But the allusion is probably missed by most people nowadays. Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 14:58

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