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

Curious Objects Referred to in Proverbs

A bark frae A TEETHLESS DOG is as gude as a bite. (Scotch).

An expression of abhorrence.

A BLACK OX ne’er trod on his foot. (Scotch).
No calamity or great trouble has ever come to him. He has always had a sheltered and prosperous life.

A BLACK SHOE mak’s a blythe heart. (Scotch).
There is no reference in this proverb to a new or polished shoe but to a shoe bedaubed with black soil because of its having been worn by one engaged in work. Such a shoe shows that its owner is industrious and therefore has material prosperity and a cheerful spirit.

A brilliant daughter makes A BRITTLE WIFE. (Dutch).

A CAT IN GLOVES is no use to catch mice. (Breton, English, Scotch, Italian).
“A mittened cat was never a good hunter.” “A muzzled cat is no good mouser.” (English).

A COTTON CAP has squeezed his head. (Osmanli).

A CROOKED CHIMNEY, but the smoke goes up straight. (Bulgarian).

A dog cannot digest BOILED BUTTER. (Hindustani).
A mean man cannot appreciate a confidential talk, but will divulge the most important secrets that are revealed to him.

A GOLD BIRD has come into his hands. (Hindustani).
Sometimes it is said, “The gold bird has flown out of my hand,” meaning that I have lost the favour of my most liberal patron or benefactor.

A GRUNTING HORSE and a graneing wife seldom fail their master. (Scotch).
Graneing—i.e., groaning.
People who are constantly complaining of ill-health generally live longer than others.

A LOOSE TOOTH and feeble friend are equally bad. (Bengalese).

A man without clothes busying himself in making JACKETS FOR DOGS. (Cingalese).

A NEW SNAKE with its hood on the tail. (Hindustani).
This proverb is applied to people who engage in a business that they do not understand.

An idle brain is THE DEIL’S WORKSHOP. (German, Scotch).
“He that labours is tempted by one devil; he that is idle is tempted by a thousand.” (English, Italian). “An idle man is the devil’s bolster.” (Italian, Dutch). “An idle person is the devil’s playfellow.” (Arabian). “Idleness is the devil’s couch of ease.” (German). “A lazy man is the devil’s walking stick.” (Welsh). “The devil tempts all other men, but idle men tempt the devil.” (Turkish).

  • “For Satan finds some mischief still
  • For idle hands to do.”
  • Isaac Watts.
  • A pack of cards is THE DEVIL’S PRAYER-BOOK. (German).

    A proud head and HALFPENNY TAIL. (Welsh).

    A SADDLE OF RAGS for A WOODEN HORSE—who will mount him? Mahidín. (Kashmiri).
    “Mahidín was a great student. Report says that he was well up in all languages and religions; at all events he became mad and his name a proverb. His son now wanders about the city in a mad condition, and everybody does him honour.”—J. Hinton Knowles.

    A SHORT HORSE is a sune wispit. (Scotch).

    A TITMOUSE IN HAND is better than a duck in air. (Welsh).
    See Contradicting Proverbs: “A bird in the cage is worth a hundred at large.”
    This proverb occurs in every nation. Beside the forms here given others will be found in the Introduction.
    “Better the lean lintie in the hand than the fat finch on the wand.” (Scotch). “A sparrow in hand is better than a peacock in expectation.” (Persian). “A thousand cranes in the air are not worth one sparrow in the fist.” (Arabian). “One bird in the net is better than a thousand flying.” (Hebrew). “Better a leveret in the kitchen than a wild boar in the forest.” (Levonian). “Why let a bird in the hand go and snare one in the jungle?” (Tamil). “Better a finch in the hand than a parrot in the Indies.” (Portuguese).
    There are also proverbs that are from the birds’ point of view, as for example: “Better be a bird in the wood than one in the cage.” (Italian). “Better a free bird than a captive king.” (Danish).

    A WICKED DOG must be tied short. (French).
    “A curst dog must be tied short.” “A mastiff groweth the fiercer for being tied up.” (English). “A mischievous cur must be tied short.” (French).

    A WILD GOOSE never laid a tame egg. (Scotch, Irish).

    A WINKIN’ CAT’S no aye blind. (Scotch).

    A youth’s promise is like the FROTH OF WATER. (Welsh).

    Better a LEAN HORSE than a toom halter. (Scotch, English).
    Toom—i.e., Empty. Better a poor horse than no horse at all.
    “Better a bare foot than none at all.” “Better some of a pudding than none of a pie.” “Better are small fish than an empty dish.” (English). “Better coarse cloth than the naked thighs.” “Better walk on wooden legs than be carried on a wooden bier.” (Danish). “Better a blind horse than an empty halter.” (Dutch). “Better a lame horse than an empty saddle.” “Better something than nothing at all.” (German). “Better straw than nothing.” (Portuguese).

    Better to wash AN OLD KIMONO than borrow a new one. (Japanese).

    Be very humble, the hopes of men are WORMS. (Hebrew).

    Bury truth in A GOLDEN COFFIN, it will break it open. (Russian).

    By appearance an eagle, but by intelligence A BLACK COCK. (Russian).

    Cast a bane in the DEIL’S TEETH. (Scotch).

    Don’t descend into a well with A ROTTEN ROPE. (Turkish).

    Even A HOLY COW if found in company with a stolen one may be impounded. (Bengalese).
    “He that walks with the virtuous is one of them.” “He that handles thorns shall prick his fingers.” “He that handles pitch shall foul his fingers.” (English). “He who makes a mouse of himself will be eaten by the cats.” “He who handles pitch besmears himself.” (German). “He who kennels with wolves must howl.” (French). “He who makes himself a dove is eaten by the hawk.” (Italian). “He who mixes himself with the draff will be eaten by the swine.” (Dutch, Danish). “A collector of mummies will be one.” (Japanese). “A wise man associating with the vicious becomes an idiot; a dog travelling with good men becomes a rational being.” (Arabian). “Who lives with a blacksmith will at last go away with burnt clothes.” (Afghan). “One associating himself with the vile will be ruined; it is like drinking milk under a palm tree.” He would be suspected of drinking strong liquor. (Telugu). “A calf that goes with a pig will eat excrement.” (Tamil).

    Even if you put a SNAKE IN A BAMBOO TUBE you cannot change its WRIGGLING DISPOSITION. (Japanese).
    See Bible Proverbs—Old Testament: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then may we also do good that are accustomed to do evil.”

    Even the Emperor has STRAW-SANDALED RELATIONS. (Japanese).

    Everybody must wear out one pair of FOOL’S SHOES if he wear no more. (German).

    Falsehood is THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER and speaks her father’s tongue. (Danish).

    Folks who advise you to buy A BIG-BELLIED HORSE in a rainy season won’t help you to feed him in the dry season when the grass is scarce. (Trinidad Creole).
    The rainy season is the season during which there is abundant grass.

    Full of fun and foustil like MOODY’S GOOSE. (English, Irish).

    Get THE NAILS OF YOUR EYES paired. (Hindustani).

    GOD’S CLUB makes no noise; when it strikes there is no cure for the blow. (Persian).

    Going into a river upon A MUD HORSE. (Telugu).
    Do not depend on people who make great pretensions and boast of their power and influence, for they will fail you in time of need.
    “Trust not to a broken staff.” (English).

    Having a good wife and RICH CABBAGE SOUP, other things seek not. (Russian).

    He has cut off THE DEVIL’S EARS. (Hindustani).
    He is so bad that he is more of a devil than the Devil himself.

    He may sit in A TUB OF COLD WATER but it will not steam. (Chinese).

    He snatches away A FLEA’S HAT. (Osmanli).
    He’s mean and grasping enough to appropriate everything he can lay his hands on.
    “He snatches off the turban of the Kadi.” (Arabian). “He would flay a flint.” “He’d skin a louse and send the hide to market.” (English). “He would bite a cent in two.” (Dutch).

    He who waits for DEAD MEN’S SHOES is in danger of going barefoot. (French, Danish).

    If THE RIGHT THIGH be pinched, pain will also be felt in the left. (Malay).

    If the snake wasn’t spunky, women would use it for PETTICOAT STRINGS. (Trinidad Creole).

    If you wish to be a king become A WILD ASS. (Syriac).
    That man is a king who brings himself under subjection. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.” (Prov. xvi:32). The power to bring oneself under subjection is best secured in solitude, hence a man becomes a king by separating himself from others and living a hermit’s life. The wild ass keeps away from human habitation, so let men keep away from intercourse with their fellow men if they desire to discipline their wills. The proverb is intended to commend a monastic life.

    I ne’er sat on your COAT-TAIL. (Scotch).
    I never sought to influence you in any way or prevent you from carrying out your purposes.

    In the next world usurers have to count RED HOT COINS with bare hands. (Russian).

    It is a bold mouse that makes his nest in THE CAT’S EAR. (Danish).

    It is easy to catch A BLIND HORSE. (Welsh).

    It is not easy to pluck hairs from A BALD FATE. (Danish).

    It’s nae mair ferlie to see a woman greet than to see A GOOSE GANG BAREFIT. (Scotch).
    Mair—i.e., more. Ferlie—i.e., wonder. Greet—i.e., weep.

    MONKEY LAUGHS when THE SNAIL DANCES. (Mauritius Creole).

    MOONSHINE AND OIL, those are the ruin of a house. (Arabian).
    To waste oil by burning a lamp when the moon shines is folly and a sign of extravagance.

    Naething is got without pains but an ill name and LANG NAILS. (Scotch).

    NINE IMBECILES who are mounted on a donkey. (Osmanli).
    No more striking picture of imbecility could be presented than that of nine idiots mounted on a stupid beast.

    Not every wood will make WOODEN SHOES. (Danish).

    Of brothers-in-law and RED DOGS few are good. (Spanish).

    Only the GRAVECLOTHES change the physical nature. (Arabian).

    Only THE SILLY DOG chases the flying bird. (Chinese).

    Our business is like A MULE’S TAIL—it grows not and grows not smaller. (Bulgarian).

    Prayer comes not in answer to the CAT’S PRAYER. (Arabian).

    Putting an elephant into a narrow dish; a HORSE’S EGGS, or a flower in the air. (Bengalese).

    ROTTEN WOOD cannot be carved. (Chinese).

    Scanty cheeks mak’ A LANG NOSE. (Scotch).

    Sometimes A RED VEST is given and sometimes a kick. (Hindustani).

    Sometimes you sow RED BEANS and WHITE BEANS grow. (Mauritius Creole).

  • “But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
  • In proving foresight may be in vain:
  • The best laid schemes o’ mice and men,
  • Gang aft a-gley,
  • And lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
  • For promised joy.”
  • Robert Burns.
  • SWEET MEATS are not distributed during a battle. (Urdu).

    The envious man has A WICKED EYE. (Hebrew).

    The fowler knows the SERPENT’S SNEEZING. (Bengalese).

    The FRENCHMAN’S LEGS are thin, his soul little; he is fickle as the wind. (Russian).

    The LAZY PIG does not eat ripe pears. (Italian).

    The learned have eyes; the ignorant have merely TWO SPOTS ON THE FACE. (Kural).

    The PORK BUTCHER always likes to talk about swine (Chinese).

    The smell is gone from the SCENTED LEATHER and it remains a common hide. (Hindustani).
    Applied to those who, having come out of poverty and obscurity and having arisen to a place of influence and authority, have lost their money and fallen back into their former condition.

    THE WHITE ANT, the cat, and the wicked spoil good things (Bengalese).

    They are galloping A PAPER HORSE. (Hindustani).

    They are setting A WOODEN HORSE to gallop. (Hindustani).
    The work that they have started is impracticable.

    Through GREEN SPECTACLES the world is green. (Japanese).

    Tie a TURBAN OF STRAW round thy head, but do not forget thy engagements. (Arabian).
    Idiots sometimes make turbans of straw for themselves. Better play the fool than break your word.

    To A CRAZY SHIP every wind is contrary. (Italian).

    To exchange A ONE-EYED HORSE for a blind one. (French).

    Two WATERMELONS cannot be carried under one arm. (Modern Greek).
    See Bible Proverbs. New Testament: “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other.”

    What is obtained on THE DEVIL’S BACK is spent under his belly. (Welsh).

    When one is thirsty ONE THOUSAND PEARLS are not worth one drop of water. (Persian).

    When the rain is coming THE BULL-FROGS SING. (Louisiana Creole).

    With a single blow he opens not NINE NUTS. (Telugu).
    Used to encourage the spirit of perseverance.

    “Apelles was not a master painter the first day.” “Rome was not built in one day.” “Step after step the ladder is ascended.” “Troy was not taken in a day.” “’Tis perseverance that prevails.” (English). “The oak is not felled at one blow.” “A great state is not gotten in a few hours.” (Spanish). “Perseverance kills the game.” (Spanish, Portuguese). “By slow degree the bird builds its nest.” (Dutch). “Link by link the coat of mail is made.” (French). “In time a mouse will gnaw through a cable.” “The repeated stroke will fell the oak.” (German). “Perseverance brings success.” (Dutch). “Nine-storied terraces rise by a gradual accumulation of bricks.” (Chinese). “Paris was not built in a day.” (French). “Little by little we become fat.” (Turkish). “With perseverance one surmounts all difficulties.” (Modern Greek). “Step by step one goes far.” “Step by step one goes to Rome.” (Italian, Dutch, Portuguese).

    You must walk a long while behind A WILD GOOSE before you find an ostrich feather. (Danish).