17

There is a proverb in the Telugu language:

The hare he caught had only three legs.

He has caught a hare that has only three legs and has now convinced himself this is a rare hare, not just one that has lost a leg. He is so completely convinced about the rarity of this hare that he is unwilling to listen to anyone who says otherwise.

Do we have a similar analogy, proverb, fable, anecdote, metaphor, or story in English?

1
  • 3
    Completely unrelated, but the phrase ‘only three legs’ applied to a hare completely threw me. In my mind, animals like hares belong in the same group as squirrels and kangaroos, animals that have two legs (and two arms), so three would be one too many rather than one too few. Having just looked at a bunch of images of hares, I’m forced to concede that the forelimbs on hares are indeed much more leg-like than arm-like, but my brain is struggling to accept this reclassification. May 14 at 9:40

14 Answers 14

21

This is along the same lines as Theodore Woodward’s advice to medical students: “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras”. In other words, don’t assume you have a rare situation (hare with three legs) when there is a more common, and hence likely, explanation.

14

"There must be a pony somewhere"

In the United States, there's a similar story/joke that exists in many versions. It emphasizes the incurable optimism of the person who finds the mundane object, and how they still manage to convince themself that it's something desirable.

A child wakes up on Christmas morning and is surprised to find a heap of horse manure under the tree instead of a collection of presents. Yet, the child is not discouraged because he has an extraordinarily optimistic outlook on life. His parents discover him enthusiastically shoveling the manure as he exclaims, “With all this manure, there must be a pony somewhere!”

In older tellings, the story of the optimistic child is sometimes contrasted with a pessimistic child who is given lots of toys and is disappointed because they'll just break.

This joke was reportedly one of Ronald Reagan's favorites; and according to William Safire, was well-known enough around the middle of the 20th century that the punchline would have been sufficient for many people to recall the entire joke.

4
  • Note that this phrase seems to be specific to the US; I'm not familiar with it (and would probably have trouble understanding it without some explanation or context).
    – gidds
    May 15 at 13:09
  • 2
    This captures the "wrong conclusion" aspect, but not the "unwillingness to accept it" aspect. The child in the story is digging through manure entirely of his own accord - no one even attempted to correct him. There's no implication that the child would keep digging if told there was no pony; the phrase to me rather implies that the person committed to the wrong belief in a vacuum of information without anyone suggesting otherwise. They're not unwilling to accept other possibilities; they've simply never even considered them. May 15 at 17:52
  • It's hard to condense both aspects of the original story into a single idiom.
    – user405662
    May 15 at 18:51
  • @NuclearHoagie To be honest I don't disagree; it doesn't quite match. But it's the closest story/joke/proverb that I could think of (other than Ant's answer, which I upvoted.) May 16 at 18:21
11

There might be something relevant to the "hare story" in Aesop's fables but nothing comes to my mind. FWIIW, you could say that the person in question has dug their heels in on this.

dig heels in

2
  • 5
    To convey the mistake, this could be combined with one of several idioms for being wrong. My preference would be he backed the wrong horse and then dug his heels in. May 14 at 15:10
  • 1
    Galileo dug his heels in, too.
    – DjinTonic
    May 15 at 14:15
9

Not quite what you're after and not exactly a proverb, but one of my personal favorite phrases is

I have made up my mind, please don't confuse me with facts.

You can read some more details about the phrase's origin here. It is generally used for people who refuse to accept facts that contradict their held beliefs. Granted, since it is such an obviously absurd statement, it is used more to poke fun at such people, but that makes it a good candidate for the use you mention:

He's made up his mind. This is clearly a rare hare, don't confuse him with facts.

6

"Pining for the Fjords" (Updated)

There is a famous British comedy sketch called the "Dead Parrot sketch" from a TV series called "Monty Python's Flying Circus" made between 1969 and 1974.

The sketch shows a man trying to return a parrot he bought from a pet shop because although sold to him as a living parrot, it is actually dead and been stuffed by a taxidermist. Throughout the sketch the shop keeper keeps trying to convince the customer that the parrot is from Norway and, in one line, is not dead and merely "pining for the fjords".

Your question reminded me of this story, with the twist that the shop keeper is only pretending he believes something to be true rather than actually believing it.

I think it safe to say English speakers are well aware of the context of the proverb and would rate the sketch as a modern day classic. Search YouTube for "dead parrot sketch" if you wish to view it. Enjoy!


A proverb used in English,

There are none so blind as those who will not see

carries the meaning of

"You will never be able to make some understand or accept something if they are too stubborn or unwilling to learn or notice." Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. (2015)

The proverb is a partial quotation of a verse in the Book of Jeremiah (Hebrew: ספר יִרְמְיָהוּ) in the Hebrew bible, and so I suspect it probably has equivalent counterparts in languages other than English.

1
3

That dog won't hunt

That idea or proposal is not viable or has no chance of succeeding; that won't work.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

(US) Phrase. That idea will not work; that is an inadequate explanation or proposition.
Wiktionary

With reference to a dog used for hunting game, the colloquial American-English phrase that dog won’t hunt, and its variants, are used to express the opinion that a particular plan or approach will not succeed.
—Synonym: that cock won’t fight.
wordhistories.net

See also Meaning and origin of "That dog don't hunt"

2
  • 12
    This is a good phrase, but in the usage as I’m familiar with, it’s entirely about the defectiveness of the metaphorical dog — there’s no particular association with stubbornness of the proposer.
    – PLL
    May 14 at 9:33
  • Also note that this phrase seems to be specific to the US; I'm not familiar with it (and would probably have trouble understanding it without some explanation or context).
    – gidds
    May 15 at 13:09
3

In American English, we might say "that's the hill he wants to die on" painting the picture of a battle between himself and the forces of reason who oppose him. He's defending his hill of opinion from those who seek to conquer him.

1
  • 1
    (This phrase is also familiar to me, so probably fairly common in UK English too.)
    – gidds
    May 15 at 13:11
2

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1559 painting of Netherlandish Proverbs aka The Topsy Turvy World is a treasure trove of sayings about human foibles.

There are about 126 identifiable proverbs. While I couldn't find a one-to-one correspondence with the OPs specific theme, there are some close equivalents, e.g.:

004: "To bang one's head against a brick wall" (i.e., to waste one's time on an impossible task)

042: "To shoot a second bolt to find the first" (i.e., to repeat a foolish action)

1
  • @heartspring Ty for the sensible edit.
    – user862888
    May 15 at 1:18
2

He is on a quixotic mission. Notice that in modern English the adjective quixotic seems to have two slightly different meanings: (1) idealistic or unrealistic; and (2) pursuing a futile or illusory goal. Here I am referring to the second meaning.

The issue of the double connotation was discussed here.

1

He is being "stubborn as a mule" would match his refusal to change his mind despite the opposition from others - it does not cover his initial error. See Collins Dictionary

One might say he is in "Blissful ignorance" - but that would be better if he was genuinely unaware of his error rather than being obstinate. See Collins Dictionary

If he was clinging onto his belief, unable to understand what others were explaining, you might say "The lights are on, but nobody is home" See Collins Dictionary

New contributor
SCP is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
1
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    May 15 at 17:51
0

A similar concept as the three-legged hair is fool's gold (pyrite), a mineral that looks like gold, but is worthless. Metaphorically, it's used to describe something someone thinks is worth a lot, but isn't, i.e. "This bitcoin is nothing but fool's gold."

https://www.gingersoftware.com/content/phrases/fools-gold

0

When an artifice failed him he claimed credit for artistry !

0

"Sunk Cost Fallacy"

When someone will cling to a belief or action, despite it being shown to be irrational.

"Confirmation bias"

People display this bias when they select information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information

"Double down"

To continue to do something in an even more determined way than before (even when wrong).

0

One could say "He's covered himself in lemon juice and intends on robbing a bank."

I have derived this sentence in reference to "The Dunning-Kruger Effect" which is an interesting case to read up on. To paraphrase the conclusion of the study it was found that when someone is left to their own devices without an alternate perspective it can have unintended results, sometimes of a dangerous nature.

The conclusion was based on a perfectly sane gentleman who has watched a documentary on invisible ink. His hypothesis was that lemon juice could make oneself invisible. To test this he applied lemon juice to his face and body and took a Polaroid selfie. Upon looking at the developed photo he was missing from it, and it provides him with all the empirical evidence he needed that his idea was correct. Armed with this knowledge he had obtained he proceeded to rob a bank wearing nothing but lemon juice.

The doctors assigned to his case after he passed a psych eval did further testing and found he probably just held the camera wrong, but didn't have anyone there to give him further perspective which ultimately left him with his false beliefs.

The doctors published their findings and coined it appropriately with their names as they were the first to document this extreme case and example of The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

New contributor
C.R. Kunferman is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
2
  • Your intends on robbing sounds odd.
    – tchrist
    2 days ago
  • I think "considered himself invisible" would get the idea across better
    – No Name
    2 days ago

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.