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

Contradicting Proverbs

A bird in the cage is worth a hundred at large. (Italian).
This proverb is found in many lands and in various forms.

Better be a bird in the wood than one in the cage. (Italian).
“Better be a free bird than a captive king.” (Danish).
See Curious Objects Referred to in Proverbs: “A titmouse in hand is better than a duck in air.”

A black Christmas makes a fat churchyard. (English).

A green Yule makes a fat kirkyard. (Scotch, English, Danish).
Both proverbs express the same thought, though they seem to contradict each other in the use of the words “black” and “green.”
See Weather and Christmas Proverbs.

A blind man may sometimes shoot a crow. (Dutch).
“A blind pigeon may sometimes find a grain of wheat.” (Danish). “A blind hen can sometimes find her corn.” (French). “The blind man has picked up a coin.” (Portuguese).

The blind catch a flea! (Osmanli).
An exclamation of surprise, that any one should suggest the possibility of such a thing.

A friend is not known till he is lost. (English).
“A friend is often best known by his loss.” (German).

He never was a friend who has ceased to be one. (French).

After dinner sleep awhile, after supper go to bed. (English).
This receipt for health is contradicted by many proverbs that give different directions, as for example:

After dinner rest, after supper walk. (Venetian).

After eating walk a hundred paces. (Sanskrit).

After eating stand or walk a mile. (Latin).

After dinner you must stand awhile or walk a thousand paces. (German).

After dinner sit awhile, after supper walk a mile. (English, Scotch).
Alexander Hislop in referring to the Scotch form of the proverb says: “This advice is unfitted for the dining practices of the present day; but when our ancestors breakfasted at six, dined at eleven, and supped at four or five, the counsel may have been good enough.”
“The Normans were dainty eaters, epicures, and therefore their cooking was nice. Rich spices were plentifully used. Among the grand dishes provided on great occasions were the boar’s head and the peacock, served to the blare of trumpets, with much ceremonial—of which more anon. A dish of cranes was a favourite dish on the table of a baron. Simnel and wastel cakes and spice bread were among the usual dainties. Wastel was a fine well-baked white bread next in quality to simnel, a rich cake generally made in a three-cornered shape.
The daily routine of a Norman household is seen in the rhyme of the period:

  • To rise at five and dine at nine,
  • To sup at five, to bed at nine,
  • Makes a man live ninety-and-nine.
  • This shows a remarkable change in manners because the Saxons had four heavy meals during the day.—Frederick W. Hackwood in Good Cheer.

    A good horse often wants a good spur. (English).
    “A good horse and a bad horse need the spur; a good woman and a bad woman need the stick.” (Italian). “The horse that draws best is most whipped.” (French, Italian). “It is the bridle and spur that makes a good horse.” (English). “One whip is good enough for a good horse, for a bad one, not a thousand.” (Russian).

    A good horse has no need of the spur. (Italian).
    “A gentle horse should be sindle spurr’d.” (Scotch). “A fast horse does not want the spur.” (Portuguese). “Do not spur a free horse.” “It is ill to spur a flying horse.” (English). “Spur not a willing horse.” (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish). “Be the horse good or bad, always wear your spurs.” (Italian).

    A Januar’ haddock, a Februar’ bannock, and a March pint o’ ale. (Scotch).
    This proverb is intended to indicate when the haddock, bannock, or home-baked flour cake, and ale are at their best.

    A cameral haddock’s ne’er gude till it gets three draps of May flude. (Scotch, English).
    A cameral haddock is a very large, sometimes an ill-shaped haddock.

    A lie becomes true when one believes it. (German).

    Though a thing has been false a hundred years it cannot become true. (German).

    Always take the day of possession to ponder on the day of destitution; do not wait for the time of poverty to think of the time of plenty. (Chinese).
    “Forecast is better than hard work.” (English). “He who does not look before him must take misfortune for his earnings.” (Danish). “He who looks not before finds himself behind.” (French). “If people take no care for the future, they will soon have to sorrow for the present.” (Chinese).

    This morning having wine, this morning drunk; tomorrow’s sorrows may be sustained tomorrow. (Chinese).
    See Isa. xxii:13; I Cor. xv:32.

    A new broom sweeps clean. (English, Italian, Scotch, German).
    “All that is new is fine.” (French). “A new broom is good for three days.” (Italian). “A new servant will catch a deer.” (Hindi).

  • “Some laughed, and said: All thing is gay that is green,
  • Some thereto said: The green new broom sweepeth clean,
  • But since all thing is the worse for the wearing,
  • Decay of clean sweeping folk had in fearing.”
  • John Heywood.

  • An old broom is better than a new one. (Accra—West Africa).

    An old bird is not caught with chaff. (English).
    “Old birds are not caught with new nets.” (Italian). “Old birds are not caught with cats.” (Dutch).

    A wise bird (wise because of age and experience) has been caught with chaff. (Tamil).
    “A sly bird is often caught by the two feet.” (Modern Greek).

    Answer not a fool according to his folly lest thou also be like unto him. (Hebrew).

    Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. (Hebrew).
    See Introduction and Bible Proverbs—Old Testament.

    A setting hen loses her breast feathers. (English).
    “Change of pasture makes fat calves.” “A setting hen never gets fat.” “A tethered sheep soon starves.” (English). “Who stands still in the mud sticks in it.” (Chinese). “The marble stone on which men often tread seldom gathers moss.” (English).

  • “Seldom mosseth the marble stone,
  • That men oft tread.”
  • William Langland.

  • “The millstone does not become moss-grown.” (German).
    Though the millstone moves and gathers no moss, it teaches an opposite lesson from that of the “rolling stone” in the proverb following, for it performs its work and is useful to mankind.

    A rolling stone gathers no moss. (Latin, Greek, English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish).
    “A rowing stane gathers nae fog.” (Scotch). “A trolling stone gathers no moss.” “A tumlan steann gidders nae moss.” “A plant often removed cannot thrive.” “People often change and seldom do better.” “Remove an old tree and it will wither to death.” (English). “Three removes are as bad as a fire.” (Italian). “Who often changes suffers.” (French). “A tree often removed will hardly bear fruit.” (Italian, French). “Old trees must not be transplanted.” (German). “A stone often moved gathers no moss.” (Polish).
    The “rolling stone” referred to in this proverb was probably a sea-coast stone made round and smooth by constant rolling with the ebbing and flowing tide. Its continuous motion would effectually prevent any moss or seaweed from adhering.
    “The proverb came originally from the sea-board people who would be more or less familiar with the phenomena of their coasts; most probably it originated with the Greeks who lived on a peninsula and an archipelago and in whose ancient literature it is found…. The poetic beauty of this proverb is great, much greater than that of most proverbs, which also favours its origin from the æsthetic Greeks.”—Frank Cowan.
    “From the time they first gained a foothold on Plymouth Rock they began to migrate, progressing and progressing from place to place and land to land, making a little here and a little there, and controverting the old proverb that a rolling stone gathers no moss.”—Washington Irving.
  • “The stone that is rouling can gather no mosse,
  • Who often remoouth is sure of losse,
  • The riche it compelleth to pay for his pride;
  • The poor it undooeth on everie side.”
  • Thomas Tusser.
  • A sin concealed is half forgiven. (Italian).

    A sin confessed is half forgiven. (Italian).

    A true friend does sometimes venture to be offensive. (English).

    A good friend never offends. (English).

    Barking dogs don’t bite. (French, German, Dutch, Indian).
    “The greatest barkers bite not sore.” “Dogs that bark at a distance never bite.” (English). “Great barkers are nae biters.” (Scotch). “Beware of a silent dog and still water.” “Timid dogs bark worse than they bite.” (Latin). “A dog which barks much is never good at hunting.” “Beware of the dog that does not bark.” (Portuguese). “Dumb dogs and still waters are dangerous.” “Timid dogs bark most.” (German). “Let the dog bark so he does not bite me.” (Spanish). “Threateners do not fight.” (Dutch). “Black clouds thunder a great deal but rain little.” (Behar).

    A dog will bark ere he bites. (English).
    “Dogs ought to bark before they bite.” (English). “The dog that bites does not bark in vain.” (Italian).

    Better have an egg today than a hen tomorrow. (Italian).

    It is better to have a hen tomorrow than an egg today. (English).

    Better late than never. (English, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Danish).
    “Better late thrive than never do weel.” (Scotch). “Come late, come right.” (Hindoo.)

    It is too late to throw water on the cinders when the house is burnt down. (Danish).
    “It’s ower late to lout when the head’s got a clout.” (Scotch).

    Birds of a feather flock together. (German, Danish, Dutch).
    “Like a black-faced villain joining an oily-legged sinner.” “All the gems in one place, all the snails in another. “Common oysters are in one spot and pearl oysters in another.” “A fly to a fly.” (Telugu). “Birds of a feather flock together, and so with men, like to like.” (Hebrew). “A jackdaw always sits near a jackdaw.” (Greek). “Every sheep with its fellow.” (Spanish). “Like very readily gathers together with like.” (Latin—quoted by Cicero). “Like will to like, as the devil said to the charcoal burner.” (German). “Like to like, Jack to Lizzie.” (Dutch). “Like to like and Nan to Nicholas.” (English). “Like draws to like and a scabbed horse to an auld dyke.” (Scotch, Danish).
    The proverb is found with many variations in all lands. “Like priest, like people.” “Like author, like book.” “Like father, like son.” “Like master, like men.” “Like prince, like people.” “Like lord, like chaplain.” “Like wood, like arrow.” “Like pot, like cover.” “Owl to owl, crow to crow,” etc.
    “Every fowler knows the truth of this proverb. All the birds in the air, on the earth, and in the waters have a mutual correspondence, rendezvous, and understanding with those of the same feather, and nothing but destruction can separate ’em. They may be scatter’d or dispers’d for a time into different corners and quarters of the country, but they will still be upon the wing to find out their stragglers, and flock together again in spite either of sportsmen or spaniels, guns, nets, or stalking horses. This is palpable in all birds, that fly over the face of the earth for game on the gentleman’s recreation.”—Oswald Dykes.
    “A parent or guardian should always reflect upon the consequence of placing a child or a ward here or there. Some company is as infectious and more mischievous than the plague, and no account can be given for the odd choice that some people make in the disposition of a son, who are extremely solicitous about the good breeding of a dog.”—Samuel Palmer.

  • “For as saith a proverb notable,
  • Each thing seeketh his semblable.”
  • Sir Thomas Watt.

  • Birds of prey do not flock together. (Portuguese).
    “Two birds of prey do not keep company with each other.” (Spanish, Portuguese).

    Every dog is a lion at home. (English, Italian).
    “Bullock at home, a cat abroad,” “A swan in his own village, a crow in the next.” “At home an elephant, abroad a cat.” “At home a hero, abroad a coward.” (Tamil).

    At home a spider, abroad a tiger. (Telugu).
    See Bible Proverbs—New Testament: “A prophet is not without honour save in his own country and among his own kin and in his own house.”

    Friends are far from a man who is unfortunate. (Latin).
    “In time of prosperity friends will be plenty, in time of adversity not one in twenty.” “When good cheer is lacking our friends will be packing.” (English). “Let him who is wretched and beggared try everybody and then his friend.” (Italian). “May God not prosper our friends that they forget us.” (Spanish). “So long as fortune sits at the table friends sit there.” (German). “Friends and mules fail us at hard passes.” (Gallican). “He who has a good nest finds good friends.” (Portuguese).

    A friend is best found in adversity. (English).
    “My friend is he who helps me in time of need.” (German). “A true friend is known in the day of adversity.” (Turkish). “A friend cannot be known in prosperity nor an enemy in adversity.” “A friend in need is a friend in deed.” (English).

    Friends agree best at a distance. (French).

    They cease to be friends who dwell afar off. (Latin, Greek).

    God keep the cat out o’ our gate for the hens canna flee. (Scotch).

    God keep the cats out of your way for the hens can flee. (Scotch).

    He never was a friend who has ceased to be one. (French).

    The best friend often becomes the worst enemy. (German).

    He who marries early makes no mistake. (Osmanli).

    He who marries early will leave a widow. (Osmanli).

    Honesty is the best policy. (English).
    “Honesty maketh rich, but she works slowly.” “The best investment for income is honesty.” (German). “Knavery may serve for a turn, but honesty is best at long run.” “Honesty may be dear bought, but can never be a dear pennyworth.” “None can be wise and safe but he that is honest.” (English).

    Lang leal, lang poor. (Scotch).
    Leal—i.e., honest, true, faithful.
    “There are tricks in all trades but ours.” “Honest men are easily humbugged.” “Every man has his business lies.” (English). “Honesty is praised and starves.” (Latin).

    If possible, don’t tell your secrets to your friend. (Persian).

    You ought not to tell the secret of your heart to any but a friend. (Persian).

    It is a goodly thing to take two pigeons with one bean. (English, Latin, French, Italian).
    “To kill two birds with one stone.” “To kill two flies with one slap.” (English). “For one reward to follow up two matters.” “To take two boars in one cover.” (Latin). “To kill two flies with one clapper.” (German). “To make two hits with one stone.” (French). “To bring down two apples with one stick.” (Dutch). “To hit two marks with one arrow.” “Two doves with one arrow.” (Persian). “To kill two rabbits with one crook.” (Portuguese). “To catch two pigeons with one bean.” (French, Italian).

    With one arrow two birds are not struck. (Osmanli).

    It is good fishing in troubled waters. (French, Spanish, Dutch, Scotch).
    “The fisherman fishes in troubled waters.” (Portuguese).

    Never fish in troubled waters. (English).
    “In still waters are the largest fish.” (Danish).

    Let him not be a lover who has no courage. (Italian).
    “Love fears no danger.” (German).

    Who loves believes, who loves fears. (Italian).

    Love expels jealousy. (French).

    A loving man, a jealous man. (Italian).

    Marry in haste and repent at leisure. (English, French, Italian, German, Dutch).
    “Hasty marriages seldom turn out well.” (German). “Make haste when you are purchasing a field, but when you are to marry a wife be slow.” (Hebrew). “Marry in haste and repent at leisure, ’tis good to marry late or never.”

  • “Grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure,
  • Marry in haste we may repent at leisure.”
  • William Cowper.

  • Happy the wooing that’s not long in doing. (English).

    Money is flat and meant to be piled up. (Scotch, Norman).

    Money is round and meant to roll. (English, French, Italian).
    “Money is round; it truckles.” (English).

    Nearer the bane, sweeter the flesh. (Scotch).
    “Nearer the rock the sweeter the grass.” (Scotch).
    The same thought is expressed in various forms in English, Dutch, and German proverbs.

    The flesh is aye fairest that’s farthest frae the bane (Scotch).
    “The nearer the church, the farther from God.” (English). “Near the monastery, last at mass.” (French). “Near the kirk, but far frae grace.” “Nearest the king, nearest the widdy”—the rope or gallows. (Scotch).

  • “But first declare
  • When you and your wife’s rich kinfolk do dwell
  • Environed about us [quoth he], which showeth well,
  • The nearer the church, the farther from God.
  • Most part of them dwell within a thousand rod.”
  • John Heywood.
  • Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today. (English).
    See Proverbs Suggested by the Bible: “Do not think today what you are to eat tomorrow.”
    “He who stays till tomorrow stays at the back.” (Osmanli). “By the street ‘By and By’ one comes to the house of ‘Never.’” (Spanish).
    “Work while it is called today for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow, which makes poor Richard say—One ‘today is worth two tomorrows,’ and father, ‘Have you somewhat to do tomorrow? Do it today!’”—Benjamin Franklin.

  • “Defer not till tomorrow to be wise,
  • Tomorrow’s sun to thee may never rise.”
  • William Congreve.
  • “Procrastination is the thief of time
  • Year after year it steals till all are fled.”
  • Edward Young.

  • If there is anything disagreeable to do, do it tomorrow. (Japanese).
    “If you wait till tomorrow have no fear of mishap.” (Osmanli). “Think today and speak tomorrow.” “Leave tomorrow till tomorrow.” (English). “Today must borrow nothing of tomorrow.” (German).
    It may also be said in favour of either proverb: “No one has ever seen tomorrow” and “To-morrow comes never.” (English).

    No one is content with his own lot. (Portuguese).

    Who is not satisfied with his condition is a great fool. (German).
    “Let everyone be content with what God has given him.” (Portuguese). “He that is contented with his poverty is wonderfully rich.” “Content lodges oftener in cottages than palaces.” “Be content the sea hath fish enough.” (English). “He has enough who is contented.” (Italian). “A contented man is always rich.” (Latin). “A contented mind is a specific for making gold.” (Tamil).

    No woman is ugly if she is well dressed. (Spanish, Portuguese).

    Ugly women finely dressed are the uglier for it. (English).

    The best choice is to do good. (Welsh).

    The best choice is wealth. (Welsh).

    The best friend is an acre of land. (Welsh).

    The best friend is a clean conscience. (Welsh).

    The dog bites not his master. (Osmanli).

    A man may provoke his own dog to bite him. (English).

    There is no better friend in misfortune than gold. (German).

    Gold is the greatest enemy in the world. (Japanese).

    There is no folly like love. (Welsh).

    Without love, without sense. (Welsh).

    There is no friend to a man like his mother. (Osmanli).

    A man has no friend like a brother, no country like Irak. (Osmanli).

    There never was a looking-glass that told a woman she was ugly. (French).
    “Every woman loves the woman in the looking-glass.” (German).

    An ugly woman dreads the mirror. (Japanese).
    “The uglier the face, the more it chides the looking-glass.” (German). “They took away the mirror from me because I was ugly, and gave it to the blind woman.” (Spanish). “Your looking-glass will tell you what none of your friends will.” (English).

    The song should be for her whose wedding it is. (Behar).
    “The day before the expected arrival of the marriage procession, the family sets up a bamboo shed in the courtyard over the fireplace. The shed is called Mashwa, Maurwa, or Manro. It is the hut in which a marriage ceremony is conducted.”—G. A. Grierson.
    One should act as befits the occasion.

    It is the wedding of the sickle and all the song is for the hoe. (Behar).
    “This proverb appears somewhat quaint to us, but in the mouth of the people whose chief pursuits are agricultural, the allusion to implements of agriculture is but natural.”—John Christian.
    Action or speech is out of place.

    Though the camel goes to Mecca forty years he does not become a hadji. (Osmanli).
    A hadji—i.e., a pilgrim.

    The camel is a pilgrim. (Osmanli).
    Because he often goes to Mecca.

    We can live without a brother, but not without a friend. (German).

    We can live without our friends, but not without our neighbours. (English).

    When a man will throw at a dog he soon finds a stone. (German).
    “A stick is soon found to beat a dog.” (English, Italian, Dutch). “Whoso is desirous of beating a dog will readily find a stick.” (French). “He that wants to strike a dog ne’er wants a stick.” (Scotch).

    When a dog comes a stone cannot be found; when a stone is found the dog does not come. (Telugu).
    “If we see a dog there is no stone and if we see a stone there is no dog.” (Tamil).

    Who weds ere he be wise shall die ere he thrives. (English).
    “Honest men marry soon, wise men not at all.” “It is good to marry late or never.” (English).

    Early marriages, long love. (German).
    “Either marry very young or turn monk very young.” (Modern Greek).