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

Local and National Characteristics and Prejudices in Proverbs

A fighting Frenchman runs away from even a she-goat. (Russian).
This opinion of French valour is quite different from that entertained by the French themselves who say: “Were the devil to come from hell to fight, there would forthwith be a Frenchman to accept the challenge.”

A horse is the ruin of the Osmanli; obstinacy ruins the Turk. (Osmanli).
“One great weakness of the Osmanli is the passion for possessing a fine horse; whilst the Turks are of a slow, stubborn, obstinate character.”—E. J. Davis.

An Arab with an Arab your face is like a black tooth. (Osmanli).
The Osmanli, knowing how they are hated by Arabs, use this proverb to indicate that should one of their number be so unfortunate as to come between two of them he would be crushed and beaten until he became like a black tooth. They also say: “Neither the sugar of Damascus, nor the face of an Arab,” I do not like either of them. They are both bad. This same dislike is shared by the Turks who declare: “I do not wish for camel’s milk nor the sight of an Arab.”

A Portuguese apprentice who knows not how to sew and would cut out. (Spanish).
In olden times the Spaniards held the Portuguese in contempt.

Arab diligence, Persian genius, Greek intelligence. (Osmanli).

Arabic is a language, Persian a sweetmeat, and Turkish an art. (Persian).

A right Englishman knows not when a thing is well. (English).

A Russian without the knout seldom does good. (German).
The Russian knout, or whip, was formerly used for flogging criminals.

A Scotchman and a Newcastle grindstone travel all the world over. (English).
“A Scotchman, a crow, and a Newcastle grindstone travel a’ the world ower.” (Scotch).

A Scotch mist will wet an Englishman to the skin. (Scotch).

A Scotsman is one who keeps the Sabbath and every other thing he can lay his hands on. (American).

Beware of a white Spaniard and a black Englishman. (Dutch).

By the side of an Osmanli, beware how you look; by the side of a Secretary, beware what you say. (Osmanli).
The Osmanli is quick-tempered and passionate. It is therefore wise to control yourself and not offend him, even in your looks. The Secretary of Government may report your remarks to the authorities; it therefore behooves you to be careful what you say in his presence.

Choose a Brabant sheep, a Guelder ox, a Flemish capon, and a Friezeland cow. (Dutch).

Do not speak Arabic in the Moor’s house. (Spanish).
Do not attempt to speak a language with which you are not familiar in the presence of one who uses it constantly; do not seek to show your wisdom by talking with strangers and the well informed on subjects about which you are ignorant.

England is the paradise of Women. (English).
“England is the paradise of women, the purgatory of men, and the hell of horses.” (Italian—Old Tuscan). Another form is: “England is a prison for men, a paradise for women, a purgatory for servants, a hell for horses.”

Gae to Scotland without siller, and to Ireland without blarney. (Scotch).
Used ironically.

Get an Irishman on the spit and you’ll easily find two others to turn him. (Irish).

Gie a Scotchman an inch and he’ll take an ell. (Scotch).
This saying is evidently borrowed from the familiar English proverb: “Give him an inch and he’ll take an ell.”
“Give a rogue an inch and he’ll take an ell.” (Danish, Dutch). “If you give him a foot he will take four.” (French). “Give a clown your finger and he will take your hand.” (Italian, Dutch, English, Spanish, Scotch). “Give me a seat and I will make myself room to lie down.” (Spanish). “If he is allowed to touch your finger, he will speedily seize your wrist.” (Hindustani). “Give a priest a small veranda, and he will by degrees take the whole house.” (Marathi).

God keep the kindly Scot from the cloth-yard shaft, and he will keep himself from the handy stroke. (Scotch).
In this proverb the Scotch acknowledge the superiority of the English in archery.
“Every English archer beareth under his girdle twenty-four Scots.” (English).

He appears to have been bred in the mountains of Batuecas. (Spanish).
“Batuecas is a wild part of Spain, being a branch of the mountains known by the name of the French Rock, in the kingdom of Leon, and in the bishopric of Coria, on the confines of that of Salamanca. The inhabitants are remarkable for their rustic manners.”—John Collins.

He is fed well in Seville whom God loves. (Spanish).
Spoken by the Spaniards in praise of their own town. The Italians say: “See Naples and then die.”
It is also said in praise of Seville: “He who has not seen Seville, has seen no wonder,” and “He who is disorderly in his own town, will be so in Seville,” as though disorder was unknown in Seville save when disorderly people from other places go there. The Spaniards sometimes say: “From Madrid to Heaven.”

He that hath to do with a Tuscan must not be blind. (Italian).

He that would England win, must with Ireland first begin. (English).
See proverb: “If that you will France win, then with Scotland first begin.”
“This proverb probably had its rise in the popular discontent felt in Ireland at the system of plantation which was carried into force there during the reign of James I, but the saying itself (with a difference) is nearly a century older.”—W. Carew Hazlitt.
“The enemies of England clearly perceived that Scotland would be an admirable base of operations from which to attack the larger country. The proverb arose about the time of the Protector Somerset’s expedition, when Scotland was weak and disturbed.”—Andrew Cheviot.
Froude, the historian, declared that the phrase was a Catholic proverb of the sixteenth century.
“Get Ireland today and England may be thine tomorrow.” (Old English Saying).

He waddles like an Armenian bride. (Osmanli).

He who goes to Ceylon becomes a demon. (Bengalese).
“When we strike mud we get smeared over.” (Malabar). “Who lives with a blacksmith will at last go away with burnt clothes.” (Afghan). “The fowl brought up with the pig will eat dirt.” (Tamil). “One scabby goat infects the flock.” (Persian). “Who talks with the smith receives sparks.” (Kurdish). “If you sit down with one who is squint-eyed in the evening you will become squint-eyed or cat-eyed.” (Modern Greek).

If a Telugu man prosper, he is of no use to anyone. (Tamil).
“Prosperity destroys fools and endangers the wise.” “Prosperity is like a tender mother, but blind, who spoils her children.” “Prosperity is the worst enemy men usually have.” “Prosperity lets go the bridle.” “Prosperous men seldom mend their faults.” (English). “Prosperity forgets father and mother.” (Spanish). “Prosperity is the nurse of anger.” (Latin). “They must be strong legs that can support prosperous days.” (German).

If that you will France win, then with Scotland first begin. (English).
See proverb: “He that would England win must with Scotland first begin.”
“In reference to the intimate relations formerly subsisting between Scotland and France when the former was ruled by its own sovereigns.”—W. Carew Hazlitt.

  • “But there’s a saying very old and true:
  • ‘If that you will France win,
  • Then with Scotland first begin.’
  • For once the eagle England being in prey,
  • To her unguarded nest the weasel Scot
  • Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs,
  • Playing the mouse in absence of the cat,
  • To tear and havoc more than she can eat.”
  • Shakespeare: King Henry V.
  • If the Scot likes a small pot he pays a sure penny. (English).
    An English testimonial to the honesty of Scotchmen.

    I hae a Scotch tongue in my head, if they speak I’se answer. (Scotch).
    “There is nae law now about reset of intercommuned persons as there was in the ill times o’ the last Stuarts—I trow I hae a Scotch tongue in my head—if they speak, I’se answer.”—Sir Walter Scott: Rob Roy.

    If you ask what is the poetic expression of the spirit of Japan, it is the odour of the wild cherry blossom in the glow of the rising sun. (Japanese).

    In settling an island, the first building erected by a Spaniard would be a church; by a Frenchman, a fort; by a Dutchman, a warehouse, and by an Englishman, an ale house. (English).

    In the mouth of an Aragonian no fish is bad. (Spanish).
    Because the province of Aragon, comprising Huesca, Saragossa, and Teruel, is not on the sea coast.

    Italian devotion and German fasting have no meaning. (Danish).

    Italy to be born in, France to live in, and Spain to die in. (Spanish).

    Lang beards heartless, painted hoods witless, gay coats graceless, mak’ England thriftless. (Scotch).
    See Contemptuous Proverbs: “Lang beards, etc.”
    This is a Scotch taunt at the English, which is said to have come into use during the wars between the two nations in the reign of Edward III.
    “The Scottes made many rhymes against the Englyshemen for the fonde disguised apparel by them at that time worne, amongest the whiche this was one, whiche was fastened upon the churche doores of Saint Peter towarde Straugate.”—John Stow.

    Let the Russian not die and he would not let thee live. (German).

    Like Persian stuff, it comes out at both ends. (Osmanli).
    Like Persian cloth that has unravelled threads hanging out at both ends.

    Like the people of Arabkyr, they pay each other compliments. (Osmanli).
    Like the people of Arabkyr who are fond of giving each other high-sounding complimentary titles.

    Make one sign of the cross to an Andalusian and three to a Genoese. (Spanish).
    One of many proverbs that show the jealousy that exists between the people of neighbouring countries and separated sections of the same country. The saying is Castilian, and indicates a strong dislike for the Andalusians and positive distrust of the Genoese.

    Nipping and scarting’s Scotch folks’ wooing. (Scotch).
    “By biting and scratching dogs and cats come together.” (English).

    No German remains where he is well off. (German).

    One Jew is equal in cheating to two Greeks, and one Greek to two Armenians. (Russian).
    The dislike that Russians have for Jews and Greeks, as well as for Armenians, is shown in the following proverbs: “When you baptize a Jew, keep him under water.” “By birth a landlord, by deeds a Jew.” “A Christianized Jew and a reconciled foe are not to be trusted.” “A Russian can be cheated only by a gypsy, a gypsy by a Jew, a Jew by a Greek, and a Greek by the devil.”
    Another proverb evidently suggested by the last named is one coming from Poland which is as follows: “The German deceives the Pole, the French the German, a Spaniard the French, a Jew the Spaniard, the devil only the Jew.”
    As an evidence of the dislike that the Russians have for the Poles, see note under proverb: “When God made the world, He sent to the Poles some reason and the feet of a gnat, but even this little was taken away by a woman.”

    One, two, three: What a lot of fisher nannies I see! (English).
    An English taunt at the fisherwomen of Aberdeen, Scotland.

    Scotsmen aye reckon frae an ill hour. (Scotch).
    “Scotsmen aye tak’ their mark frae a mischief.” (Scotch).
    “Spoken when we say such a thing fell out when such an ill accident came to pass. A Scottish man solicited the Prince of Orange to be made an ensign, for he had been a sergeant ever since his Highness ran away from Groll.”—James Kelly.

    Scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tartar. (English).

    Some part of Kent hath health and no wealth; some wealth and no health; some both health and wealth. (English).
    East Kent, the weald of Kent, and the middle of Kent, and sections near London.

    That you may know that the jealousy of an Arab is jealousy itself. (Persian).

    The Chinese have two eyes, the Franks one eye, but the Moors no eye. (Chinese).
    A writer in Notes and Queries says that similar comparisons frequently occur in Buddhist works of a date earlier than the beginning of the fifteenth century, when the above proverb was current in Samarcand. The two following examples are given by him:
    “This world has three kinds of men, viz.: eyeless, one-eyed, and two-eyed. The eyeless man never attends to the law; the one-eyed man does not fix his mind upon the law, howbeit that he frequently attends thereto; but the two-eyed man carefully hearkens unto the law and demeans himself according to it.”—(A.D. 416).
    “Every seeker in philosophical meditation should have the two particular eyes: one, the ordinary eye with which to read letters; another, the intellectual eye with which to discriminate errors.”—(A.D. 960).

    The difference between Arabs and Persians is the same as that between the date and its stone. (Arabian).

    The Emperor of Germany is the King of Kings; the King of Spain, King of Men; the King of France, King of Asses; the King of England, King of Devils. (French).

    The English love, the French make love. (English).

    The Englishman greets, the Irishman sleeps, but the Scotsman gangs till he gets it. (Scotch).
    “A pretended account of the behaviour of these three nations, when they want meat.”—James Kelly.

    The English rule, salary at an appointed time.” (Marathi).

    The fellow with the hat earns the money, and the fellow with the Dhotee dissipates it. (Hindustani).
    The European is designated as “the fellow with the hat,” and the Hindoo as “the fellow with the Dhotee,” the Dhotee being the cloth that is worn around the waist, passing between the legs and fastened behind.

    The Frenchman sings well when his throat is moistened. (Portuguese).

    The Frenchman’s legs are thin, his soul little, he’s fickle as the wind. (Russian).

    The German may be a good fellow; but it’s better to hang him. (Russian).

    The Germans carry their wit in their fingers. (English, French).

    The High Dutch pilgrims, when they beg, do sing; the Frenchmen whine and cry; the Spaniards curse, swear, and blaspheme; the Irish and English steal. (Spanish).
    Francis Grose thinks that this proverb may be founded on truth, as “pilgrims, gypsies, and other vagabonds” are not “scrupulous observers of the distinctions of property.”

    The inhabitants of Toledo are God’s people, the water is their own, and we sell it to them. (Spanish).
    This is an old proverb used by the natives of Galicia, who were common carriers for the Spanish and Portuguese.

    The Irishman is never at peace except when he is fighting. (Irish).
    “The Englishman is never content but when he is grumbling; the Irishman is never at peace but when he is fighting; the Scotsman is never at home but when he’s abroad.” (Scotch Saying).

    The Irishman’s wit is on his tongue, but the Gael is wise after the time. (Gaelic).
    “The Scotsman is aye wise ahint the hand.” (Scotch). “The Manxman is never wise till the day after the fair.” (Manx).

    The Isle of Wight hath no monks, lawyers, or foxes. (English).

    The Italians are wise before the act, the Germans in the act, the French after the act. (Italian, English).
    “The Irishman’s wit is on his tongue, but the Gael is wise after the time.” (Gaelic). “The Manxman is never wise till the day after the fair.” (Manx). “The Turk’s sense comes afterwards.” (Osmanli).
    “I am sorry I have done injustice to my sovereign and your master. But I am, like a true Scotsman, wise behind hand—the mistake has happened—my supplication has been refused.”—Sir Walter Scott: Fortunes of Nigel.

    The Italianized Englishman is a devil incarnate. (Italian).

    The Italians cry, the Germans bawl, and the French sing. (French).

    The Jew ruins himself with Passovers, the Moor with wedding feasts, and the Christian with lawsuits. (Spanish).
    “The Jews spend at Easter, the Moors at marriages, and the Christians at suits.” (English).

    The Leinster man is sprightly, the Munster man boastful, the Connaught man sweet-tongued, and the Ulster man impudent. (Irish).

    The negro eats till he has had enough, the Persian till he bursts. (Osmanli).

    The oppression of Turks rather than the justice of Arabs. (Arabian).
    “By the term Arabs are here meant the Bedouins, who, in the Mammelouk times, most grievously oppressed the open country of Egypt. The Bedouins themselves often called their nation exclusively ‘Arab,’ a term they use more frequently than ‘Bedou’; and all other Arabians who are not of Arab tribes, they distinguish by the appellation of Hadhary or Fellah, which with them are terms of reproach or contempt.”—J. L. Burckhardt.
    This proverb once current in Egypt is now obsolete.

    The Osmanli has no right nor left. (Osmanli).
    That is, he is so shrewd that he is never taken off his guard.

    The Osmanli hunts his hare in a cart. (Osmanli).
    Though apparently slow and often behind hand, he is patient and persevering and succeeds in accomplishing his purposes.

    The Osmanli’s bread is on his knees. (Osmanli).
    He always has sufficient food without working for it, as it is supplied in abundance from those whom he has conquered.

    The prince with the Armenian is not distinguishable. (Osmanli).
    When the prince associates with those whom he considers mean and low, he makes himself one with them. “You may know him by the company he keeps.” “Birds of a feather flock together.” (English).

    There is no trust to be put in the Islanders. (Gaelic).
    The saying probably came into use from the fact that Islanders being more dependent on the weather than others were often unable to keep their engagements.

    The riches of Egypt are for the foreigners therein. (Arab).
    An allusion to the government of Egypt by foreigners.

    The Russian is clever but always too late. (Russian).

    The Scots wear short patience and long daggers. (Scotch).

    The Tartar has no need of a guide. (Osmanli).
    “The Tartar sells his father.” He has no conscience. (Osmanli). “The Tartar is born a pig, therefore he does not eat pork.” (Russian). “Is there a Tartar who is chasing you?”—addressed to one who is hasty in his actions. (Osmanli).

    The three-tufted (The Mrwris), the cactus plant, and the red-faced (the Europeans), cannot live without increasing. (Marathi).

    The Turk will (perhaps) be lettered, but he cannot be a man. (Osmanli).
    The Osmanli has a contempt for Turks as is indicated by the following common sayings: “What does the Turk know of Bayram, he (can only) lap and drink whey.” “They gave a beyship to the Turk; and he first killed his father.” “The Turk and the young lion, together with the donkey, took counsel from the calf, because he (the Turk) was born of his (the calf’s) mother.

    The Welshman keeps nothing till he has lost it. (English).
    This saying is said to have originated in the tenacity with which the Welsh held on to the castles that they had lost and recovered.

    They wha hae a gude Scotch tongue in their head are fit to gang ower the world. (Scotch).

    Three failures and a fire make a Scotsman’s fortune. (Scotch).

    To a Turk, the inside of a town is a prison. (Osmanli).
    “The Tartar who lives in a city believes himself in prison.” (Turkish). “A great city—a great solitude.” (English).

    What is good for the Russian is death for the German. (Russian).
    “What is food for some is black poison to others.” (Latin). “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” (Scotch).

    When God made the world he sent to the Poles some reason, and the feet of a gnat, but even this little was taken away by a woman. (Russian).
    The dislike that the Russians have for the Poles is further seen in the following sayings: “We are not in Poland, where the women are stronger than the men.” “A Pole tells lies even in his old age.”

    When the Frenchman sleeps the devil rocks him. (French).

    Where Germans are, Italians like not to be. (Italian).

    Where the Turk’s horse once treads, the grass never grows. (English).

    You may praise a Russian a thousand times, but his eyes will still be blue. (Turkish).