I have a proverb in my native tongue saying something like "there is no cat chasing fish for God" which implies that anyone who does anything that may seem beneficial to you, is doing it for themselves. What is the equivalent proverb in English?

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    Related at least: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 5 '12 at 23:15
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    @Mansuro That expression is excellent! I will make it my life's mission to introduce that expression into the English Language. – Rob Jun 6 '12 at 1:21
  • @Rob: It's been in "the English Language" since well before WW2, so your work here is done. Unless you want to help popularise the idea that (according to expanding universe/Big Bang theory) The universe is the ultimate free lunch – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '12 at 1:44
  • @FumbleFingers Eh no, that is not an expression widely known in the English language. According to Google I have a lot of work to do google.ie/… – Rob Jun 6 '12 at 1:52
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    @Mansuro I agree with Rob. Just out of curiosity, what language is the original expression in? – JAM Jun 6 '12 at 2:13

In the UK there's "You don’t get owt for nowt." (owt = ought = anything/something, and nowt = nought = nothing).

Also Look out for number one, often followed by If you don't, no one else will., which effectively expresses the same sentiment.

Plus, as Wayfaring Stranger comments, There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

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Not a direct equivalent, but very close meaning as well, like the one of Wayfaring Stranger

You don't get something for nothing

It is a proverb that means that everything costs something, and anything that appears to be free must be deceptive (grammatically incorrect, it would use anything and not something, but it's idiomatic)

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  • -1 I don't think this can reasonably be called a proverb. I can't find any written instances before the twentieth century. Plus I'm pretty sure the form "don't get" would be very uncommon hundreds of years ago. You could call it a "saying" or "adage", maybe - but it's not old enough to be a "proverb", imho – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '12 at 18:47
  • Hmm ok ... I am not sure there is a general consensus about that, as well as in my mind, "adage", "maxim" and "proverb" overlap considerably, and are not necessarily very old-honoured ("adage" might even be the oldest). A "saying" is maybe more general, so let's say it's a saying ? nb: I used "proverb" not to be confusing, because that's how TFD, the source I am pointing, is classifying it. – cedbeu Jun 6 '12 at 22:45
  • I'm sure you're right there's no true consensus, so maybe I was a bit extreme. But on average Google Books supports it - hits for a nineteenth century saying/adage/proverb are 81/8/61, but for a sixteenth century saying/adage/proverb it's 70/6/292. Not a single twentieth century adage - just one saying and 4-5 proverbs, but they're all a bit "quirky" because they're too recent. Basically those numbers indicate that proverb becomes more common/appropriate than saying as you go back more centuries. – FumbleFingers Jun 7 '12 at 1:42
  • Indeed ... Corpora don't lie ... But in my sense those results represent the usage of the terms themselves in litterature during centuries, and in our case, that doesn't mean a lot ... Except maybe that if it's a twentieth century expression, it's more likely a "proverb", statistically ;-) Ow anyway, don't fight ... I think you're right, "proverb" is probably not the better choice for this expression. – cedbeu Jun 7 '12 at 2:12
  • Sure. As you say, even if I personally don't think it's a "proverb", that's TFD's classification. Anyway, having made my point, I've just made a "non-edit" so I could cancel the downvote - which was in retrospect an ott response. – FumbleFingers Jun 7 '12 at 12:04

I would argue that although there may be expressions that approach the meaning of the expression that you have supplied there is no equivalent in English that is as good.

The expression as you have translated it from the original Tunisian is, quite simply, delightful.

I would respectfully suggest that you modify it in speech to say, "There's no cat chasing fish for God" or "There's no cat fishing for God"

This expression as it stands is a delight for the following reasons:

  1. It will make atheists smile, they will take it as proof that God does not exist.
  2. The religious will take it as demonstrating God's good grace to allow us all to have free will; that we have the choice to be selfish increases the value of being selfless
  3. Cat owners will go "Well yeah, what do you expect? It's a cat!"

Finally, it is worth pointing out that English is a mongrel of a language that sucks up other language and idiom from all over Europe and the Rest of the World, from the grammatically suspect, "I'm loving it!" to words such as 'shampoo', 'pyjamas' and 'galore' and also including the sentence structure of languages that it has supplanted.

So I would implore you, for the sake of this great expression, use it as you have translated it and when quizzed by those who ask you about it, tell them it's an old Tunisian saying.

It's likely they will thank you.

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    I love this answer, I wish I could give it more than +1 – Mansuro Jun 6 '12 at 10:22

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