There is a sarcastic Hindi proverb that goes like this:

रस्सी जल गई पर बल नहीं गया

Rassi (rope) jal gayi (got burnt) par (but) bal (literally: strength/force) nahi (not) gaya.

The rope got burnt, but the force did not.

It means, literally, that 'the rope got burnt but the force does not go away.' Force here means arrogance and has negative connotations. The burnt rope indicates humiliating defeat.

It is used in a scornful manner to describe or deride a person who is ruined or decimated retains but still tries to retain their former prowess- even after everything is destroyed, the attitude does not go away.

What is the English equivalent of this proverb?

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    – tchrist
    Jan 7 at 16:53

6 Answers 6


From the given context, it appears that there is a sardonic ring to the idiom— supposably, the picturesque metaphor of "burnt rope with the knot still intact" is used for someone who, although they're down-and-out, have still the arrogant or stubborn streak in them.

It is unlike the "commendable tenacity" suggested by such idioms as "down but not out", "fight till the bitter end", and so forth— all of which have positive connotations.

Wiktionary gives this idiom, among others, for such a scenario:

The wolf may lose his teeth but never his nature

One cannot change one's nature, no matter how much time passes.

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    +1 The poster has confirmed that the original Hindi expression is derogatory—indeed, sarcastic—which this answer comes much closer to capturing than my answer does.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 5 at 19:43

There is

"He's dead but he won't lie down". The lyrics are HERE

It is the title of a popular comic song sung by Gracie Fields in her second film, Looking on the Bright Side, released in September 1932.

It was later used by the political novelist, George Orwell, in the epigraph of his book "Coming Up For Air" (1939).

It is used of a person who has been comprehensibly defeated/disgraced, etc, but they themselves stupidly refuse to accept the defeat/the shame, etc, and continue to act as if nothing has happened.

  • 1
    A certain politician may one day feature in such sayings instead of in the news.
    – WGroleau
    Jan 7 at 17:09

One English phrase that seems pertinent to the situation you describe comes from William E. Henley—better known (to me) as the co-author of the multivolume, turn-of-the-century magnum opus Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present. Henley's untitled poem number IV in "Life and Death (Echoes)" (1875), reprinted in A Book of Verses (1888) contains this quatrain:

In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced or cried aloud, / Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.

The idea here is that even in defeat a person may retain dignity and honor.

An Ngram chart tracking the frequency of occurrence in the Google Books database of publications of "bloody but unbowed" for the period 1880–2019 suggests that this shortened expression was virtually unknown before 1888, but reached its height of popularity (in published writing) in the mid-1940s, near the end of World War II:

Most occurrences of "bloody but unbowed" in recent years omit any reference to a head as the thing being so described, but the sense of the expression is not much affected by this omission. Whether a bow is made at the neck or at the waist or at full length, the subservience implied by the gesture is what's important.

There are also a fair number of variants on the expression these days, such "bloodied but unbowed," "broken but unbowed," "battered but unbowed," and "beaten but unbowed." Nevertheless, all of them seem to have originated with Henley's formulation, which, I think, fully qualifies as a proverbial phrase in English, if not as a standard idiom.

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    This captures the scenario of the proverb but I don't think it matches the tone. To me, calling someone "bloodied but unbowed" or "beaten but not broken," etc. has a sense of strength, nobility, or steadfast determination. In the absence of a clear marker of disparagement or ironic tone, I think it's far more positive than the original, which seems to mock someone who won't admit they no longer have the power or authority they once did.
    – Aos Sidhe
    Jan 6 at 20:52
  • 1
    I posted a link to bent but not broken under the Q - but I'd originally searched for bowed but not broken, that being the version I'm most familiar with. It's interesting to compare your bowed (humbled, brought low, totally defeated) with mine (down but not out, lost the battle but not the war). Jan 7 at 11:38

There are some good quotes that are sarcastically pretty close in meaning to the Hindi proverb you shared:

“God save me from fools with a little philosophy — no one is more difficult to reach.”
Epictetus, The Discourses

“A woman who holds her head up too high, is trying to breathe from her own pollution.”
Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“There once was a beautiful young woman from the city.
She told everyone that she did not believe in gravity.
She jumped off a cliff, and her body went stiff;
Because she still couldn’t fly, what a pity.”
Robert Chad Canter, The Shadow Angel: Night of the Meta-Men

A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride.
African Proverb


Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Adversity makes you stronger.

Nietzsche was right: adversity makes you stronger.

It is the quote used by many to bolster resilience in the face of adversity. But the words “what does not kill me, makes me stronger”, by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, could have scientific merit too, according to research.

US psychologists found that while traumatic experiences such as assault, bereavement or natural disaster can be extremely damaging, smaller amounts of trauma may help people develop resilience.

“Everybody’s heard the aphorism 'whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ ” Mark Seery, a researcher at the University at Buffalo, said. “But in psychology, a lot of ideas that seem like common sense aren’t supported by scientific evidence....

[The Telegraph; Dec 18 2011]

  • 3
    The mind of the underdog. In South India a sarcasm " the tamarind tree is dead but not the sourness of the tamarind fruit "
    – Narasimham
    Jan 6 at 8:49

There are no common English idioms to express the concept of arrogance despite defeat. A common way of describing such a person is "oblivious", which means a certain detachment from reality.

There are endless homespun and regional catch phrases to express this idea but any example would be misleading.

  • 3
    I think that you should delete this answer and leave the other one.
    – Conrado
    Jan 6 at 12:23

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