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

Question and Answer Proverbs

A certain person tied an ox. The animal fell. “Sprinkle some water upon him.” “Let us first,” replied one, “get some out of the well to sprinkle upon him.” (Arabian).
The picture that is presented in this saying is that of an ox fallen to the ground from exhaustion and overwork while he remains tied to a water wheel. A man stands near who is advising the owner of the ox to throw some water on the prostrate beast to refresh it, whereupon the owner answers—“Let us first get some water out of the well to throw on it.”
The saying is used in reference to people who give foolish advice.

A crow exclaimed “God is the truth”; “Then,” quoth one, “the dirt scraper has become a preacher.” (Arabian).
See Grouping Proverbs: “If your neighbour has made a pilgrimage to Mecca once, watch him; if twice, avoid his society; if three times, move into another street.”

A monkey solicited hospitality from demons. “Young gentleman,” they replied, “the house is quite empty of provisions.” (Arabian).
Never seek benefits of those who are capable only of inflicting injury. It is useless to ask hospitality of the niggardly.

“Bridegroom salute!” “May God be blessed!” (Modern Greek).
Addressed to one who has waited long for some benefit and whose patience is nearly exhausted.

“Cake! Why so insipid?” “Because I lack a cash worth of sugar.” (Tamil).

“Crow, how goes it with your children?” “The more they grow, the more they blacken.” (Modern Greek).
This may mean, as a child grows he will show more clearly the characteristics of his parents, or it may mean, the character of an evil-minded man becomes worse with advancing age.

“Father,” he said, “the person who washes his hand, is he to eat with us?” “Neither he nor thou also,” he replied. (Arabian).
It is a common practice in the East to wash the hands before eating. Sometimes the right hand only is washed, that being the one used in handling the food.
The proverb was used in referring to those who sought to prevent others from obtaining a benefit that they might secure it for themselves and found at last that neither of them were to have it. The proverb is now obsolete.

“Get up, youngster, and work.” “I am weak and cannot.” “Get up, youngster, and eat something.” “Where is my big pot?” (Kashmiri).

“Good day, John.” “I am sowing beans.” (Modern Greek).
Applied to people who are so engrossed in work that they are inattentive to others who ask them questions, and give only irrelevant replies.

“He has seen pardon from a dry head.” “What kind of pardon did he see?” (Osmanli).
Favours granted by a bad man are worse than no favours, for they are sure to injure the recipient rather than benefit him. “Even quarter granted by the vile, is vile.”

He said, “O Slave, I have bought thee.” “That is thy business,” he replied. “Wilt thou run away?” “That is my business,” he answered. (Arabian).

He said to him, “Why are you crying while I am your uncle?” He said to him, “I am crying because you are my uncle.” (Arabian).

“I almost killed the bird!” “No one can eat almost in a stew.” (Yoruba—West Africa).
The proverb represents a colloquy between a sportsman and a companion.
“Almost never killed a fly.” (German). “Almost kills no man.” (Danish). “A miss is as good as a mile.” (English).

I asked him about his father. “My uncle’s name is Shayb,” he replied. (Arabian).
Similar to “‘Good day, John.’ ‘I am sowing beans,’” being an irrelevant answer from one who is absorbed in some work.

“I renounce thee, Satan!” “Thou shalt wear a shabby cloak.” (Spanish).
The first part of the proverb is supposed to be spoken by one who refuses to make money dishonestly. The second part is Satan’s reply.
The saying is intended to indicate that, if a man does not resort to fraudulent business practices he cannot succeed—he will always remain poor. It can be used of course only by those who esteem money of greater value than integrity of character.

“It’s a bauld moon,” quo’ Bennygask. “Anither pint,” quo’ Lesley. (Scotch).
Used at a convivial party by one of the members who objects to the dispersing of his comrades. Alexander Hislop, in referring to the saying, says that it “has nothing to recommend it but its antiquity.”
“‘Hout awa, Inverashalloch,’ said Galbraith; ‘Mind the auld saw, man: It’s a bauld moon, quoth Bennygask; Anither pint, quo’ Lesley. We’ll no start for anither chappin.’”—Sir Walter Scott: Rob Roy.

It was asked of a woman, “Are you well?” She replied: “No, not at all. The child can just walk.” (Kashmiri).
When a child begins to walk it is constantly getting in its mother’s way, often hanging on her skirts and giving her much annoyance, and is so frequently in mischief that she is compelled to be ever watchful. Her cares are thus increased and she is constantly wearied and in ill health.

It was asked, “What is the wish of the blind?” “A basketful of horns,” they replied; “if he does not see he may like butting.” (Arabian).
This proverb is now obsolete.
“The blind men of Cairo, especially those quartered in the mosques, are notorious for their very quarrelsome temper. The multitudes of blind men daily fed in the Mosque el Azhar have frequently committed violent outrages in fighting one with another.”—J. L. Burckhardt.

“My Lord,” he said, “the melon peels.” “Man,” quoth he, “thy Lord eats the melon together with the melon peels.” (Arabian).
The picture here presented is that of a man eating a melon in a shop where they are on sale. A beggar at his side asks for the rind, whereupon he turns and answers the man, quoting the last part of the saying.

“My service to you, uncle of the elephant foot”; “My child, I am honoured in your converse!” (Bengalese).
A youth is here supposed to be jesting with a man who is much his senior and ridiculing him because of his large feet. The last part of the proverb is the man’s sarcastic reply to the young man’s insulting words.
The saying is used when anyone covertly refers to the faults and failures of others when complimenting them on their virtues or achievements.

“Neighbour, your house is burnt!” “Impossible, I have the keys.” (Modern Greek).
Applied to those who depend on inadequate measures, or who give trivial reasons for confidence, in times of danger or threatened loss.

“O blanket, where are you?” said he. “Where you left me, you madman,” it replied. (Telugu).
Used as a sharp retort to one who has mislaid or lost an article and inquires of another where it may be found.

“O camel, how do you, going up and coming down hills?” “Oh, both are a curse.” (Kashmiri).

“O friend, kill the snake.” “I am the father of a family.” (Marathi).
I cannot afford to do the dangerous thing that you ask. I have responsibilities and dependent interests, and people would suffer should I fail in the attempt. Do it yourself.

“O Garuda, are you well?” “I would be well enough if I were in the place where I ought to be.” (Tamil).

One man said, “Let us go to the marriage”; the other replied, “Let us leave the country.” (Telugu).
Applied to those who take the other side of every question, oppose every measure, contradict every statement, and object to every proposition.
Other Telugu proverbs are similarly used: “When the owner said his she-buffalo was barren, the neighbour said it was milch.” “When the master fed the Dasaris (Devotees of Vishnu), the mistress fed the Jangams (Devotees of Siva).” “When one says he’s going, the other says he’s dying.”

“Pray, Mr. Barber, how much hair is on my head?” “Sir, it will presently be laid before you.” (Hindustani).
Applied to one who asks for information regarding results that will ere long be manifest or learned through experience. The following Persian proverb is similarly applied: “This is my hand, and this is the back of my hand.”

“Sing, reverend sir.” “My nail pains me.” (Modern Greek).
Applied to people who make a trivial excuse when asked to perform any task, or respond to any obligation.

Some person said to the gambler: “Oh! Your mother has died.” He replied, “Bring her by this way.” (Kashmiri).
Applied to people who are so absorbed in their work that they are oblivious to other calls of duty and who refuse to turn aside from their occupation even for the most important matters. Their business has taken such a strong hold on them that they can no more leave it than the gambler can leave his game.

“Son-in-law, your nose drops.” “It is from the winter.” (Modern Greek).
Used when men excuse their evil habits.

The husband cries out, “I am hungry! I am hungry!” The wife replies, “Let the morning meal and evening meal be taken together.” (Assamese).
A taunting expression that is applied to women who in excess of economy seek to cut down family expenses to such an extent that suffering ensues.
“The Assamese has, as a rule, three meals a day—in the early morning, midday, and evening. In the early morning he eats cooked rice, either hot or cold, according to his fancy or his means. In the middle of the day he takes what is called Jalpan or lunch, which often consists of pithaguri or cakes made from rice flour. In the evening is the large meal of the day; it consists of cooked rice, fish, or vegetables.”—P. R. T. Gurdon.

The mouse fell from the roof. “Come take some refreshment,” said the cat. “Stand thou off,” she replied. (Arabian).
Always mistrust the proffered assistance of an enemy. Be on your guard against favours from the evil-minded.
“The crow knows the instant we look at it and the bison will perceive the approach of the hunter.” (Malayan). “Think of the wolf but keep a rod in readiness for him.” (Kurdish). “When you have the wolf in your company you ought to have the dog at your side.” (Basque). “When the fox is hungry he pretends that he is asleep.” (Modern Greek). “They trusted the key of the pigeon house to the cat.” (Arabian). “The fowl knows the serpent’s sneezing.” (Bengalese). “When you go as a guest to the wolf see that you have a hound with you.” (Servian).

The owl and the hen waited together for the morning: “The light is of use to me,” said the hen; “but of what use is it to you?” (Tamil).

They asked: “How does your patient?” “Very well,” they replied, “He used to spit upon the ground, now he spits upon his breast.” (Arabian).
The reply of the physician indicates the extreme weakness of his patient.

They asked the cock, “What hast thou seen in thy sleep?” “I saw people sifting,” he replied. (Arabian).
Sifting corn.
“Who lies in a silver bed has golden dreams.” “The ass, even eating oats, dreams of thistles.” (German). “Foolish men have foolish dreams.” (English). “The dream of the cat is all about mice.” (Arabian). “Even in its dreams the crow’s thoughts turn on eating filth.” (Tamil). “A sow is always dreaming of bran.” (French). “The whole world appears a fountain of water to a thirsty man in his sleep.” “A cat all night dreams of a sheep’s tail.” (Persian). “The cat dreams of garbage.” “That which dwells in the mind is seen in dreams.” “The dream of a fowl, barley is barley.” (Hindustani). “He who is hungry dreams of radishes.” “What the old woman had in her mind, that she saw in her dream.” “He who wishes in the evening finds himself in an enchantment.” (Modern Greek).

They asked the cows, “If you die, do they not put you into shrouds?” They replied, “Would to God they may leave our skins upon us.” (Arabian).

They asked the raven, “Who is the most beautiful?” “My little ones,” he said. (Osmanli).
This proverb is found in many lands and is expressed in various ways. The most common form is, “Every man thinks his own geese swans.”

They said to Satan, “Do you eat ashes?” “If there be fat with them,” he said. (Osmanli).
This saying is applied to men who will stoop to do the most degrading things for the sake of money or other material benefit.

They said to some blind men, “Oil is become dear.” They replied, “That is a thing with which we can dispense.” (Arabian).

They said to the asses of the gypsum mill, “The day of resurrection is a terrible day!” “We have neither worn saddles nor eaten barley,” they replied. (Arabian).
The answer attributed to the asses indicated that because of their hardships the day of resurrection was not terrible to them.
“Those have most to dread punishment in the other world who lead a life of undeserved enjoyment in this. The idle asses kept merely for pleasure in Cairo have fine saddles and are fed with plenty of barley or beans, while the hard-working ass goes with a bare back and gets nothing to eat but straw. The gypsum or plaster used at Cairo is brought from the eastern mountain opposite to Helouan, a village on the bank of the Nile, about five hours distant to the south of Cairo. The whole desert is overspread in those mountains with loose gypsum covered with a thin coat of sand. The gypsum is pulverized in the mills at Cairo.”—J. L. Burckhardt in Arabic Proverbs.

They said to the hare, “The mountain is vexed with you.” “But I,” he said, “am not vexed with it.” (Osmanli).
“It takes two to make a quarrel.” (English).

They said to the heron, “Your bill is crooked.” He replied, “Am I not all crooked?” (Kashmiri).

They said to the little, “Whither are you going?” “To the side of the much,” it said. (Osmanli).
Ambition and purpose often carry an insignificant man to a place of wealth and influence.

They said to the mouse, “Take these two pounds of sugar and carry this letter to the cat.” “The fee is good enough,” she replied, “but is tiresome.” (Arabian).
Pay for services is not always compensation for labour performed; it is sometimes compensation for risk. Large wages are paid to those who engage in dangerous occupations as well as those who are skilled in their work.

They said to the tailor, “It is difficult.” He said, “My needle is in my head.” (Osmanli).
Men are paid for knowing how to do a thing as well as for the actual work that they perform. A skilled workman receives the highest wages.

They said, “Why is the nape of your neck so thick?” He said, “My own affairs, I myself look after them.” (Osmanli).
An impertinent question calls for an impertinent answer.

“What a beauty!” “What a sweet voice!” (Marathi).
This proverb represents a donkey and a camel in conversation. The donkey, desiring to pay a compliment to the camel, calls it a beauty, and the camel, not wishing to be outdone in politeness, returns that the donkey has a sweet voice.
The saying is a satire on flattery and is applied to people who pay undeserved compliments, the mere purpose of which is that they may be regarded as agreeable.

“What! Do you steal in broad daylight?” He replies, “Do you know how pressing my necessities are?” (Tamil).

“What do you wish?” “That which I have not.” (Tamil).

“What hast thou, Paul?” “That which I had always.” (Modern Greek).
Applied to people who are continually complaining of their lot and keeping themselves in a state of unhappiness.

“What is sweeter than sugar?” “Truth.” (Hindi).

“What is wanting to you, man with the ringworm?” “A pearl cap.” (Modern Greek).
Applied to people who have absurd ambitions, particularly those who desire dress and adornment that is not fitted to their social station.

“Where is this twig?” “From this shrub.” (Modern Greek).
See Bible Proverbs—Old Testament: “As is the mother so is her daughter.”

When one said, “Here’s a tiger!” the other said, “And there’s his tail!” (Telugu).
When one exaggerates in telling a story another seeks to rival him in the same way.

“Where are you going to, Madam Fate?” asked one, “I’ll follow you, go on,” she replied. (Telugu).
Every man makes his own fate; evil results from evil companionships and habits, good results from good companionships and habits.

“Where goes’t thou, bad fortune?” “To the house of the man of many arts.” (Modern Greek).
“Jack of all trades is master of none.” (English).

“Where goest thou, she-goat?” “I go to the city”; “If they permit thee, thou wilt go farther yet.” (Modern Greek).
“If your luck go on at this rate you may very well hope to be hanged.” “Give a fool rope enough, and he will hang himself.” Sometimes “a thief,” “a rogue,” or “the devil” is used instead of “a fool.” “Give him tow enough and he’ll hang himself.” “Let him alone with the Saint’s Bell and give him rope enough.” “Give a child his will, and a whelp his fill, and neither will thrive.” (English).

“Who borrows easily?” “He who pays punctually.” (Modern Greek).

“Who has eaten the honey?” “He that has the fly on his umbrella.” (Modern Greek).
“Cover yourself with honey and the flies will have at you.” (English).

“Why did he die?” “For lack of breath.” (Hindustani).

“Why do you cry before you are beaten?” he asked. “You are going to beat me in future,” replied the boy. (Telugu).
“He takes off his clothes before he reaches the water.” (Afghan).

“Why do you weep?” “Not so, sir, this is my natural look.” (Hindustani).

“Why is the funeral so hot?” One answered, “Every person weeps for his own state.” (Arabian).
Or weeps because of his own unhappy condition.
“A burial or funeral is said to be hot, or warm, when crowds of mourners attend it, crying loudly. The women on those occasions wave their handkerchiefs with both hands, and, following the bier, sing the praises of the deceased, whom, whether male or female, they celebrate chiefly for beauty or finery: ‘What a beautiful turban he had!’ ‘What a lovely person she was!’ ‘What a fine veil she wore!’”—J. L. Burckhardt.

“Why, my girl, do you faint?” “I have not had rice enough.” (Tamil).

“Why, you fellow, do you untie the knot?” “Do you know how hungry I am?” (Tamil).

“You fellow! Why did you go up the cocoanut tree?” When thus addressed, he replied, “I went to get grass for the calf.” (Tamil).
A retort that gave no information and intended to be equivalent to the reply, “It is none of your business.”

“You shrew, will you plaster the floor?” “No, you wretch! I’ll dig it.” “You shrew, will you dig the floor?” “No, you wretch! I’ll plaster it.” (Hindustani).