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I'm trying to translate a proverb that roughly translates to "a wound untreated will fester," but I'm having trouble thinking of an English equivalent.

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4 Answers 4

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The idiom a stitch in time saves nine describes the situation well:

Solving a difficulty while it is small may save a great deal of trouble in the end.

or

A prompt, decisive action taken now will prevent problems later.

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    This seems similar, but different, like it is looking at the problem from the opposite angle.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 22 at 11:42
  • This is about being careful not to cause a problem, not the consequences of ignoring an external problem. Mar 22 at 16:12
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    @TechInquisitor I disagree; the stitch is necessary because there is already a problem (a tear or hole in a garment); the consequence of not solving it early ("in time") is having a bigger problem later ("nine [stitches]"). A proverb about being careful not to cause a problem would, in this metaphor, describe making sure not to damage the garment so as to never need a stitch. For me, perhaps 'stop keeping your keys in your trouser pockets, and you won't have to eventually fix a hole in every pair of trousers you own'.
    – dbmag9
    Mar 22 at 21:20
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One with similar medical overtones is "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure":

used to say that it is better and easier to stop a problem, illness, etc., from happening than to stop or correct it after it has started

There is a slight difference in context, though, as this is more about avoiding problems before they start rather than addressing them quickly once they appear.

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This proverb has a virtually identical meaning. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Want_of_a_Nail.

In conversation one might say just “For want of a nail!”

For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

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Nip it in the bud

to stop something immediately so that it does not become a worse problem (Merriam-Webster)

The reference is to pruning a tree, as you might in an orchard or garden. Branches in unwanted places should be pruned while they're still buds, so the tree doesn't waste energy growing a branch there, and the resulting scar is small.

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