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D.E. Marvin, comp. Curiosities in Proverbs. 1916.

Animal Proverbs


There is no beast so savage but it sports with its mate. (Spanish).

The ape claspeth her young so long that at last she killeth them. (English).

Asses sing badly because they pitch their voices too high. (German).

For every fruit consumed by a bat a hundred are spoiled. (Tamil).

If the bandicoot could see behind her she would break her heart and die. (Marathi).

If the bear will learn to dance he must go to school early. (German).

He feeds like a boar in a frank. (English).

It will rain seventy times before a buffalo’s horns will be wet. (Tamil).

It is easy to threaten a bull from the window. (Italian).

Are you to ask the bullock before you put on the pack saddle? (Telugu).

A gude calf is better than a calf o’ a gude kind. (Scotch).

If the camel gets his nose in the tent his body will soon follow. (Arabian).

He who plays with a cat must bear its scratches. (Arabian).

A colt is worth nothing if it does not break its halter. (French).

A cow is not called dapper unless she has a spot. (Danish).

More beautiful than the eye of a deer; more rapid than its speed. (Tamil).

Although a dog may go to sea the water must be lapped. (Tamil).

If a donkey bray at you don’t bray at him. (English).

Only an elephant can carry an elephant’s load. (Marathi).

The ewe that doth bleat doth lose the most of her meat. (English).

The fox goes at last to the shop of the furrier. (Turkish).

The goat that climbs up the rocks must climb down again. (French Guyana—Creole).

In small woods may be caught large hares. (Dutch, Danish).

Hedgehogs are not to be killed with a fist. (Portuguese).

A hog that’s bemired endeavours to bemire others. (English).

A golden bit does not make the horse any better. (Italian, German).

The greyhound that starts many hares kills none. (Spanish, Portuguese).

Incredible news—a jackal gone on a pilgrimage. (Marathi).

When the tree falls the kid can climb it. (Louisianian Creole).

Death devours lambs as well as sheep. (English).

The leopard is absent so they play with the cubs. (African).

The lion is not half so fierce as he’s painted. (Spanish).

He that lacks my mare may buy my mare. (Scotch).

When mastiffs fight, little curs will bark. (English).

A mole can undermine the strongest rampart. (Chinese).

What need is there of a king in a country where there is no work, or of a mongoose where there are no snakes? (Tamil).

A monkey never watches his own tail; he watches his neighbour’s. (Mauritius Creole).

It is a bold mouse that makes her nest in the cat’s ear. (Danish).

Cutting off a mule’s ears won’t make him a horse. (Louisianian Creole).

Art thou worn out and become a muskrat; hast thou cast thy horns? (Tamil).

The ox is never weary of carrying its horns. (Haytian Creole).

Pigs may whistle but they hae an ill mouth for’t. (Scotch).

It is bad for puppies to play with cub bears. (Danish).

Rabbit says: “Drink everything, eat everything, but don’t tell everything.” (Martinique Creole).

He is in search of a ram with five feet. (Italian).

Like excavating a mountain and catching a rat. (Tamil).

Let ilka sheep hang by its ain shanks. (Scotch).

The full sow knows not the squeak of the empty one. (Welsh).

A squirrel ascends by climbing. (Tamil).

The still swine eats the mesh; the wild ones run past it. (Danish).

He sits like a tiger withdrawing his claws. (Malay).

The breath o’ a fause friend’s waur, than the fuff (threat) o’ a weasel. (Scotch).

He who goes with wolves learns to howl. (Spanish, Italian, German, Danish).

God gives every bird its food but they must fly for it. (Dutch).

The fowl knows the serpent’s sneezing. (Bengalese).

Cherries are bitter to the glutted blackbird. (French).

Chickens are slow in coming from unlaid eggs. (German).

Though the cock crows not morning will come. (Afghan).

When the crane attempts to dance with the horse she gets broken bones. (Danish).

If you put a crow in a cage will it talk like a parrot? (Urdu).

He hasna the gumshion o’ the cuckoo. (Scotch).

He who makes himself a dove is eaten by hawks. (Italian).

Like a conversation of ducks—nothing but wah-wah. (Turkish).

The old age of an eagle is as good as the youth of a sparrow. (Greek).

It is not every man that can carry a falcon on his hand. (Danish).

A wild goose never laid a tame egg. (English).

He that will meddle with all things must go shoo the goslings. (English).

Mother, marry me, marry me, or the gull will fly away with me. (Spanish).

It is hard to lure hawks with empty hands. (Danish).

The hen cackles in one place and lays eggs in another. (Modern Greek).

The heron’s a saint when there are no fish in sight. (Bengalese).

A jackdaw is ever found near to a jackdaw. (Greek).

A hungry kite sees a dead horse afar off. (English).

He expects that larks will fall ready roasted into his mouth. (French).

The magpie cannot leave her hopping. (Dutch).

Only the nightingale can understand the rose. (Marathi).

I have lived too near a wood to be frightened by owls. (English).

Speech like that of a parrot; gait like that of a peacock. (Tamil).

The partridge loves peas, but not those that go into the pot with it. (African).

The sluggard, like the peacock, is afraid of rain. (Karanese).

The voice of the pigeon in the spit is not like the voice of the pigeon in the tree. (African).

A seaman, if he carries a millstone, will have a quail out of it. (English).

Foster a raven and it will pluck out your eyes. (Spanish).

The robin and the wren are God’s cock and hen; the martin and the swallow are God’s mate and marrow. (English).

The sound of the bell does not drive away rooks. (Italian).

Sparrows should not dance with cranes—their legs are too short. (Danish).

It is said that the stork died while waiting for the ocean to dry in the hope of getting a supply of dried fish. (Tamil).

It is not for the swan to teach eaglets to sing. (Danish).

If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds. (English).

As poor as Job’s turkey, that had to lean against a fence to gobble. (American).

There’s winter enough for a snipe and woodcock too. (English).

He who disturbs the wren’s nest, with health he will ne’er be blest. (Welsh).

Fishes and Other Aquatic Animals

“The fish comes to his senses after he gets into the net.” (Turkish).

Easterly wind and rain bring cockles here from Spain. (English).

It is because of his good heart that the crab has no head. (Martinique Creole).

He that has an eel by the tail has a very unlikely hold. (English).

He can wile the flounders oot o’ the sea. (Scotch).

To angle all day and catch a gudgeon at night. (English).

Let every herring hang by its own tail. (Irish).

“Ye look like a rinner,” quo’ the deil to the lobster. (Scotch).

A mackerel to catch a whale, a sprat to catch a mackerel. (English).

There’s life in a mussel as lang as it cheeps. (Scotch).

Oysters are not good in a month that hath not an “R” in it. (English).

A salmon from the pool, a wand from the wood, a deer from the hills—are thefts which no man was ever ashamed to own. (Gallican).

Like the sea-serpent (a mythical animal, not the sea-snake of the Indian and Pacific Oceans), frequently heard of but seldom seen. (English).

The hook that caught this shad must have been baited with a pin-cushion. (English).
So said because of the large number of small bones.

The wrecker ashore is worse than the shark at sea. (English).

Better the head of a sprat than the tail of a sturgeon. (English).

There is no catching trout with dry breeches. (Portuguese).

Very like a whale in a butter tub. (English).

Reptiles Including Scorpions, Snails, Leeches, Worms, etc.

“Although you take a reptile on a cushion it will seek a heap of dry leaves.” (Tamil).

If the adder were not so dangerous, women would take it for petticoat strings. (Haitian Creole).

Till you are across the river, beware how you insult the mother alligator. (Haitian Creole).

The good, like the cobra, sometimes retain their power and conceal themselves. (Tamil).

The crocodile in the water and the tiger on shore both strive to break my neck. (Bengalese).

The frog flew into a passion and the pond knew nothing of it. (Modern Greek).

The leech wants to become a snake. (Mauritius Creole).

Better be the head of a lizard than the tail of a dragon. (Italian).

Whoever pats scorpions with the hand of compassion receives punishment. (Persian).

He that hath been bitten by a serpent fears a rope. (Hebrew).

The snail deserves the end of its journey. (Welsh).

If the snake cares to live, it doesn’t journey upon the high-road. (Haitian and French Guyana Creole).

“To the devil with so many masters,” said the toad to the harrow. (French).

Daddy tortoise goes slow, but he gets to the goal while Daddy deer is asleep. (Louisianian Creole).

Like seeking feathers from a turtle. (Cingalese).

He that keeps malice harbours a viper in his heart. (English).

Sorrow is to the soul what the worm is to wood. (Turkish).

Insects Including Spiders

“One grain-destroying insect will consume a thousand grains of rice.” (Tamil).

Bugs are all the same whether they bite or not. (Tamil).

What could the ant do if it had the head of a bull? (German).

From the same flower the bee extracts honey and the wasp gall. (Italian).

The beetle is a beauty in the eyes of its mother. (African).

The cockroach is never in the right where the fowl is concerned. (Trinidad Creole).

The light of the firefly is sufficient for itself only. (Marathi).

Nothing is ever well done in a hurry except fleeing from the plague or from quarrels and catching fleas. (Italian).

A drop of honey catches more flies than a hogshead of vinegar. (German).

Glowworms are not lanterns. (Italian).

When gnats swarm in January the peasant becomes a beggar. (Dutch).

Like a grasshopper—fascinated by a lighted lamp. (Tamil).

It is nonsense to set a louse on a steel to bark at a tailor. (English).

There is no cloth cut so fine but moth will eat it. (English).

A carbuncle appeared on the back of a mosquito. (Tamil).

Friends tie their purses with spider’s thread. (Italian).

Anger is a stone cast at a wasp’s nest. (Malabar).