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

Fortune and Luck in Proverbs

(See Superstition in Proverbs.)


A bold man has luck in his train. (Danish).
“Good courage breaks ill luck.” (English). “Fortune favours the brave.” (Latin, Spanish, English). “To the bold man fortune gives her hand.” (English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French). “Cowards have no luck.” (German). “Fortune helps the daring but repulses the timid.” “Fortune smiles upon the brave and frowns upon the coward.” (Latin). “Fortune is not far from the brave man’s head.” (Turkish).
The Germans say: “Fortune helps the bold, but not always.”

A stout man crushes ill luck. (Spanish).

Everyone is the author of his own good fortune. (French).

Everyone is the maker of his own fate. (English).
“‘Everyone is the maker of his own fortune’; and an uneasy, necessitous, busy man seems to me more miserable than he that is simply poor.”—Michael de Montaigne.

Every wind is against a leaky ship. (Danish).

Fortune comes to her who seeks her. (Italian).
“Luck comes to those that look after it.” (Spanish).

Fortune does not stand waiting at anyone’s door. (Dutch).

Fortune helps them that help themselves. (English).

Fortune is the companion of virtue. (Latin).
Some men are so sure that they are the creatures of luck that the combined force of religion, philosophy, education, and experience is unable to change their opinion. “It never occurs to fools,” said Goethe, “that merit and good fortune are closely united.”
The word “Luck” is said to be derived from an old Anglo-Saxon verb meaning “to catch” and therefore signifies something caught. Such a derivation seems reasonable in view of the fact that prosperity and adversity are thought by many to be dependent on fleeting opportunities that must be seized in passing; whereas they are the result of an overshadowing providence and the working out of fixed laws.

Good fortune ever fights on the side of prudence. (Greek).

Good luck comes by cuffing. (English).
“Good luck comes by elbowing.” (Spanish).

Industry is the mother of good fortune. (Spanish).
“The goddess of fortune dwells in the feet of the industrious; the goddess of misfortune dwells in the feet of the sluggard.” (Tamil).

Luck follows the hopeful, ill luck the fearful. (German).

Luck stops at the door and inquires whether prudence is within. (Danish).

Luck will carry a man across the brook if he is not too lazy to leap. (Danish).

Put your finger in the fire and say it was your fortune. (Scotch).

The devil’s children have the devil’s luck. (English).

There is no one luckier than he who thinks himself so. (German).


A drop of fortune is worth a cask of wisdom. (Latin).
“A handful of luck is better than a sackful of wisdom.” “Half an ounce of luck is better than a pound of sense.” (German). “A grain of good luck is better than an ass-load of skill.” (Persian). “An ounce of luck is better than a pound of wisdom.” (English). “Who has luck needs no understanding.” (German).

Adversity makes a man, luck makes monsters. (French).
“Tribulation brings understanding.” (Latin). “Wind in the face makes a man wise.” (French). “Adversity makes a man wise, not rich.” “Wisdom is a good purchase, though we pay dear for it.” (English). “Misfortune is a good teacher.” (German).

A good bone never falls to a good dog. (French).
“The worst pig gets the best acorn.” (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese). “The worst pig often gets the best pear.” (English). “The worst service, the better luck.” (Dutch).
“Other rules may vary, but this is the only one you will find without exception—that, in this world, the salary or reward is always in the inverse ratio of the duties performed.”—Sydney Smith.

A jackal gives luck to those he meets, but let him beware of a dog. (Hindustani).
To meet a jackal is regarded by the people as an omen of good luck.

A lucky man needs little counsel. (Scotch, English).
Sometimes the proverb is rendered, “Lucky men need no counsel.”

A man does not seek his luck, his luck seeks its man. (Turkish).

A meeting in the sunlight is lucky and a burying in the rain. (Irish).

An unlucky fish tak’s bad bait. (Scotch).

An unlucky man’s cart is eithly coup’d. (Scotch).
“An unhappy man’s cart is eith to tumble.” (Scotch).

Bad luck, bad credit. (German).

Bad luck often brings good luck. (German).
“Give a man but luck and he’ll run through all the dangerous difficulties, both of sea and land, with success, and seldom or never fail of being happy, even beyond his own hopes. ’Tis wonderful how some persons thrive an-end in the world, and seem to prosper upon their very losses.”—Oswald Dykes.

Better be the lucky man than the lucky man’s son. (Scotch).
“Better be lucky born than a rich man’s son.” (English).

Born of a white woman. (Latin).
Used in referring to one who was thought to be lucky.

By land or water the wind is ever in my face. (English).

By the cat’s good luck the string is broken. (Hindustani).
It is lucky for the cat when the string breaks by which food is hung to the rafters.
This proverb is applied to people who are favored by circumstances over which they have no control, and are thus enabled to secure benefits that they have not earned and positions beyond their ability to fill.

Dirt bodes luck. (Scotch).
The cleanly are comfortable, the dirty are lucky.

Even the street dog has his lucky days. (Japanese).

Fair eyes, unlucky hands. (Modern Greek).
This saying is applied to people who prefer “genteel poverty” to thrift and comfort.

Few have luck, all have death. (Danish).
“Luck is for the few, death for the many.” (German).

For him who is lucky even the cock lays eggs. (Modern Greek, Russian).
“The lucky man’s bitch litters pigs.” (Spanish). “From twelve eggs he gets thirteen chickens.” “His hens lay eggs with two yolks.” (German). “He extracts milk even from a barren goat.” “He planted pebbles and took potatoes.” (Greek).

Fortune and misfortune are neighbours. (German).
“Fortune and misfortune are two buckets in a well.” (German). “Fortune and misfortune dwell in the same courtyard.” (Russian).

Fortune can take from us only what she has given us. (French).

Fortune has wings. (German).

  • “Then in blynde fortune put not thy truste,
  • For her brightness sone receyveth ruste;
  • Fortune is fykill, fortune is blynde,
  • Her rewardes be fykill and unkynde.”
  • Old Rhyme, 1784.
  • Fortune is a woman, if you neglect her today expect not to regain her tomorrow. (French).

    Fortune is round, it makes one a king another a beggar. (Dutch).
    “Fortune makes kings out of beggars and beggars out of kings.” “Fortune makes kings and fools.” (German).

    Fortune knocks once at least at every man’s door. (English).
    “When fortune knocks open the door.” (German, Italian).
    “The goddess (Fortuna) is said to have once appeared in a vision to the Emperor Galba, who reigned A.D. 68–69, and to have informed him that she was standing weary before his door, and that, if she were not quickly admitted, everyone dear to him would become her prey. On awakening he found outside the entrance-hall of his palace a bronze figure of fortune which he concealed beneath his garments and carried to his summer residence at Tusculum. There he set apart a sanctuary for the image and offered prayer to it each month, keeping, moreover, in its honour an all-night vigil every year.”—Robert Means Lawrence in Magic of the Horse Shoe.

    Fortune rarely brings good or evil singly. (English).

    Fortune sometimes favours those she afterwards destroys. (Italian).
    “‘The world’s a lottery,’ cries the losing gamester; and he that wins one while, perhaps, may have nothing to brag of at the foot of the account. The tables may turn again, and then he must come off a loser, notwithstanding all his former lucky hits.”—Oswald Dykes.

    Fortune wearies with carrying one and the same man always. (English).

    Give a man luck and throw him into the sea. (English).
    “Pitch him into the Nile and he will come up with a fish in his mouth.” (Arabian).

    God send you luck, my son, and little wit will serve your turn. (English).
    “A little wit ser’s a lucky man.” (Scotch).

    Good luck is better than early rising. (Irish).
    “If fortune favours you, go and sleep at ease.” (Persian). “Have fortune and go to sleep.” (Italian).

    Good luck is not sold in the market. (Persian).

    Hap and mishap govern the world. (English).
    “’Tis a common saw, that time and chance happen to all men, but when we see a person prodigiously fortunate and prosperous, we are apt to make a banter of the blessing, and jest upon Providence, with the ‘romance of Fortunatus’ cap,’ ‘Luck in a Bag,’ and ‘What says Pluck?’ Thus is heaven foolishly insulted; and the success either of living happily, of marrying well, or of making one’s fortune fairly any other way in the world, chances to be often ignorantly lampoon’d and falsely attributed to a mistaken Deity.”—Oswald Dykes.

    He dances well to whom fortune pipes. (English).

    He falls on his back and breaks his nose. (French, Italian, English).

    He is a horse with four white feet. (French).

    He is lucky who forgets what cannot be mended. (German).

    He that has luck brings home the bride. (German).
    “He that has luck leads the bride to church.” (Dutch).

    He that laughs on Friday will weep on Sunday. (English).
    See Superstition in Proverbs: “Friday is cross day for marriage.”
    Friday has generally been considered unlucky, yet it was the birthday of Washington, Bismarck, Gladstone, Disraeli, General Scott, and Spurgeon. While many untoward events have taken place on Friday, the records of history show that numerous achievements in art, science, discovery, and beneficence took place on the day. In common with every other day of the week, it is marked with good and evil both in the affairs of men and nations.
    “He that sings on Friday will weep on Sunday.” “As the Friday, so the Sunday; as the Sunday, so the week.” “On Thursday you’ll see what Friday will be.” “Fridays in the week are never alike.” “Friday’s hair and Sunday’s horn goes to the D’ule on Monday morn.” “Friday in the week is seldom a leek.” “Friday’s night dream on Saturday told is sure to come true be it never so old.” “Friday’s moon, come when it will, comes too soon.” “If you hear anything new on a Friday, it gives you another wrinkle on your face and adds another year to your age.” (English).
    “Whoever is born on Friday must experience trouble.” (Tyrolese). “Fine on Friday, fine on Sunday; wet on Friday, wet on Sunday.” (French).
    Sometimes in Old England a person whose visage was gloomy or who looked disheartened was said to be “Friday-faced.”
    The widespread opinion that Friday brought ill luck is said to have been due to the fact that Jesus was crucified on that day. As the event seemed to men of old a good reason for regarding the day as ominous of evil, it was easy to imagine other reasons to confirm their opinion, hence it was held that Friday was the day on which Adam ate the forbidden fruit and on which he was driven out of Paradise, the day on which Cain killed his brother, the deluge began, the tongues of the tower builders were confused, the plagues of Egypt began, Stephen was stoned, Herod the Great slew the children of Bethlehem, John the Baptist was slain, Peter was crucified, and Paul was beheaded.
    There is no evidence that the prejudice against Friday is due to the fact that Jesus was crucified on that day. It was regarded as unlucky long before the Christian era and looked upon as an unauspicious time to begin a journey, make a visit, undertake an enterprise, or perform a task.
    There is an aversion to the day among the Brahmins of India, the peasants of Russia, the people of France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and other lands; indeed the aversion is well-nigh universal.
    On the other hand, the day has not been without its defenders. It was selected by Mahomet for public prayer and is believed by Mohammedans as the most auspicious day of the week. In mediæval times it was considered by the Germans and Hebrews as the most suitable day for weddings. Egyptians hold Friday in honour. In Servia a child is considered particularly fortunate who is born on the day, for the reason that the fact will protect him in after life from the assaults of hogs and sorcerers; and among the North Germans it is held to be the best day on which to begin gathering the harvest.

    He was born upon St. Galtpert’s night, three days before luck. (Dutch).

    He who has bad luck hazards boldly. (Spanish).

    He who is lucky passes for a wise man. (Italian).

    He would break his neck upon a straw. (Italian).
    “He would drown in a spoonful of water.” (Italian).

    He would sink a ship freighted with crucifixes. (Provençal).

    If an unlucky man becomes a cultivator, either his oxen die or there is a want of rain. (Hindustani).
    “If I went to sea I should find it dry.” (Italian). “Wherever the human wretch goes there will be famine.” (Hindustani). “When bad fortune becomes one’s companion, he will be bitten by a dog although mounted on a camel.” “If an unlucky person goes to the river he makes it smoke”—sets it on fire. (Persian). “If I were to trade in winding-sheets no one would die.” (Arabian). “If my father had made me a hatter, men would have been born without heads.” (German, Irish).

    If e’er you mak’ a lucky puddin’ I’ll eat the prick. (Scotch).
    If ever you become lucky, which you never will, I’ll get nothing out of it.

    If fortune assist you, your teeth can break an anvil; but should it desert you, your teeth will be broken by eating flummery. (Persian).

    If he starts on Wednesday he will return at some time or other. (Marathi).
    He will be sure to return as Wednesday is a lucky day on which to begin a journey.

    If he threw up a groschen on the roof down would come a thaler to him. (German).

    If it is to be luck, the bull may as well calve as the cow. (Danish).

    If there be two sneezes from one nostril, Shadeva says the omen is good. (Marathi).
    Shadeva was a celebrated astrologer.

    If thou wert to see my luck, thou wouldst trample it under foot. (Arabian).
    You are so unlucky that you would not profit by my good luck if it were yours.

    Ill luck enters by arms full, and departs by inches. (Spanish).

    Ill luck is worse than found money. (English).

    It avails little to the unfortunate to be brave. (Spanish).

    It is a bad omen to meet one with a high forehead and curly hair. (Tamil).

    It is better to be born lucky than rich. (English).
    “Better be born lucky than wise.” (English, Italian).

    It is easier to win good luck than to retain it. (Latin).

    It is lucky to see a wolf; it is also lucky not to see one. (Persian).
    It is considered a good omen in Persia to see a wolf when beginning a journey; it is also considered unfortunate to meet another wolf on the way because of the fear and nervousness which would be excited.

    It is not every man who is the son of Gaika. (Kaffir).
    Gaika was a very wealthy South African.

    It’s no sonsie to meet a bare fit i’ the mornin’. (Scotch).

    It was my luck, my laddy. (Scotch).

    Labour without luck helps not. (German).

    Left and right brings good at night. (English).
    The reference is to the itching of the eyelids. When the lids of the right eye itch, it is a sign of good luck; when the lids of the left eye itch, it is a sign of bad luck; when the lids of both eyes itch at the same time, it is a sign that good will come at night.
    “Left before right, you’ll cry before night.” “Left eye cry, right eye joy.” (English).

    Luck gives many too much, but no one enough. (German).
    “Luck has much for many but enough for no one.” (Danish).

    Luck has but a slender anchorage. (Danish).

    Luck is better than a hundred marks. (Danish).

    Luck perhaps visits the fool, but does not sit down with him. (German).
    “Luck meets the fool but he seizes it not.” (German). “Fortune often knocks at the door, but the fool does not invite her in.” (Danish).

    Luck seeks those who flee, and flees those who seek it. (German).

    Maggots breed in his salt box. (Basque).

    Mair by luck than gude guiding. (Scotch).

    Marry in May and rue for aye. (English).
    May has always been considered as an unlucky month in which to be married. The reason for the prejudice is unknown. Some have thought that it was because the month should be set apart and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but the prejudice existed before Christ was born and in non-Christian lands.

  • “No tapers then should burn, nor ever bride,
  • Link’d at this season long her bliss enjoy’d;
  • Hence our wise masters of proverbs say,
  • The girls are all stark naught that wed in May.”
  • Ovid.
  • The above quotation was placed on the gates of Holyrood Palace on the morning of May 16, 1567, when Mary Queen of Scots married Bothwell.
  • “Let maid or widow that would turn to wife,
  • Avoid this season dangerous to life;
  • If you regard old saws, mind this they say,
  • ’Tis bad to marry in the month of May.”
  • Ovid.
  • That the prejudice against May marriages is common is attested by many proverbs: “Marry in May, repent always.” “May is the month to marry bad wives.” “The girls are stark mad that wed in May.” “’Tis bad to marry in the month of May.” (Latin). “Marriage in May is unlucky.” “Good folks do not marry in May.” (Russian). “Who marries between sickle and scythe will never thrive.” (English). “May birds are aye cheepin’,”—referring to the supposed physical weakness of children whose parents married in May. “O’ the marriages in May, the bairns die o’ a decay.” “To marry in May is to wed poverty.” (Scotch).
  • “The proverbs teach and common people say,
  • It’s ill to marry in the month of May.”
  • Old Rhyme.
  • More luck than wit. (Dutch).

    More unlucky than a dog in church. (Italian).

    Ne’er luck when a priest is on board. (Scotch).
    Andrew Cheviot declares that the superstition among sailors that it is unlucky to have a priest on board a vessel is still held in Scotland and that it probably originated with the story of Jonah.

    See a pin and let it lie, you’re sure to want before you die. (English).
    There are various renderings to this proverb. Among them are the following: “See a pin and let it lie, you’ll want a pin before you die.” “See a pin and let it stay, you’ll want a pin another day.” “See a pin and let it lay, bad luck you’ll have all the day.” “See a pin and let it lie, all the day you’ll have to cry.”
    The proverb is frequently lengthened by prefixing the statement, “See a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.”
    The same thought is expressed in the English saying: “He that will not when he may, when he will he shall have nay.”
    We are told that Sir W. Coventry quoted the maxim to Charles II, “He that will not stoop for a pin will never be worth a pound,” and declared it to be an English proverb.

    She that pricks bread with fork or knife will never be happy maid or wife. (English).
    It was thought to be unlucky in the middle ages to prick bread with anything but a skewer.

    The bird of prosperity has lodged on his head. (Turkish).

    The de’il’s bairns hae aye their daddy’s luck. (Scotch).

    The feet of mendicants drive away ill luck. (Persian).

    The highest spoke in fortune’s wheel may soon turn lowest. (English).

    The lucky man has a daughter for his first-born. (Portuguese, Spanish).

    The lucky man waits for prosperity; the unlucky man gives a blind leap. (Irish).
    “He that takes too great a leap falls into the ditch.” “Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers creep.” (English). “Take care before you leap.” (Italian). “Before you leap look at the ground.” (Malabar). “First consider, then begin.” (German). “He that looks not ere he loup, will fa’ ere he wat.” (Scotch). “Look before you leap.” (In many languages).

  • “Look ere thou leap, see ere thou go.”
  • Thomas Tusser.
  • “And though they seem wives for you never so fit,
  • Yet let not harmful haste so far outrun your wit,
  • But that ye hark to hear all the whole sum
  • That may please or displease you in time to come;
  • Thus by these lessons, you may learn good cheap
  • In wedding and all things to look or ye leap.”
  • John Heywood.
  • The melon and marriage must depend upon good luck. (Spanish).

    The morning salutation to the bean-seller, and not to the druggist. (Arabian).
    It is generally believed in the East that the luck of the day is dependent on the first object seen in the morning. It is more fortunate therefore to meet the seller of coarse horse-beans (used for food by the lower classes), who provides them for healthy peasants, than to meet a druggist, who is the common physician for those who may be ill.

    The most friendly fortune trips up your heels. (French).

    There’s no fence against fortune. (English).
    “There is no fence against a panic.” “There is no fence against a flail.” (English).

    There is no one luckier than he who thinks himself so. (German).

    The son of the white hen. (Spanish).
    A phrase applied to men who are supposed to be lucky.

    The sun once stood still, the wheel of fortune, never. (Spanish).
    See Josh. x:13.

    The unfortunate are counted fools. (English).

    The waur luck now, the better anither time. (English, Scotch).

  • “If you had won it, certainly you had.
  • No, no; when Fortune means to men most good,
  • She looks upon them with a threatening eye.”
  • —Shakespeare: King John.
  • The wheel of fortune turns quicker than a mill wheel. (Spanish).

    What’s worse than ill luck? (English, Scotch).
    What is worse than ill luck? The anticipation of it—hence the wisdom of the Irish saying: “Every man has bad luck awaiting him some time or other, but leave the bad luck to the last; perhaps it may never come.”

    When fortune opens one door, she opens another. (German).

    When fortune reaches out her hand one must seize it. (German).

    When fortune smiles on thee take advantage. (English).

  • “When smiling fortune spreads her golden ray,
  • All crowd around to flatter and obey,
  • But when she thunders from the angry sky,
  • Our friends, our flatterers, our lovers fly.”
  • Ovid.
  • When luck is wanting diligence is useless. (Spanish).

  • “For there’s nae luck about the house,
  • There’s nae luck at a’;
  • There’s little pleasure in the house
  • When our gude man’s awa’.”
  • W. J. Mickle.
  • When you’re in ill luck, a snake can bite you even with its tail. (Martinique Creole).

    Who changes country, changes luck. (Italian).
    “Who changes his condition changes fortune.” (Italian). “Change of pasture makes fat calves.” (English).

    Who has luck warms himself without fire and grinds without wind or water. (German).

    Who has no ill luck grows tired of good. (Spanish).

    Whom fortune favours the world favours. (German).

    You must have good luck to catch hares with a drum. (Danish).