Home  »  Curiosities in Proverbs  »  Singular Proverbs

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

Singular Proverbs

“Ahem!” as Dick Smith said when he swallowed the dishcloth. (English).
“Make a virtue of necessity.” (English).

Cold water to hot water; hot water to cold water. (Telugu)
There is a great advantage to be gained by uniting, as in marriage, two people of different dispositions.

Digging for a worm, up rose a snake. (Bengalese).
“A jest driven too far brings home hate.”(English).

Great doings at Gregory’s; heated the oven twice for a custard. (English).
A sarcastic reference to one who seeks notoriety by display.

Having a mouth and eating rice by the nose. (Bengalese).
Applied to one who seeks to perform some task in a difficult way or by impossible means, when a simple and easy way is at hand.

He who has toothache must cut off his tongue; he who has eye-ache, his hand. (Osmanli).
This singular piece of advice is based on the belief that the contact of the tongue with an aching tooth and the touching of a sore eye with the hand increases the pain.

His mouth is shoes. (Osmanli).
Or “This mouth is a pair of shoes”—that is, he talks too much and what he says is vulgar.

If it happens, it happens; if it does not happen, what will happen? (Persian).
An expression of indifference as to the results of any particular course of action.

If they come, they come not; and if they come not, they come. (English).
Sometimes the first part of this proverb only is quoted, and sometimes the last part. It is of Northumberland origin.
“The cattle of people living hereabout, turned into the common pasture, did by custom use to return to their home at night, unless intercepted by the freebooters and borderers. If, therefore, those borderers came, their cattle came not; if they came not, their cattle surely returned.”—John Ray.

If you cut off from your tongue and roast and eat it, you have no meat. (Uji—West-African).
This proverb is intended to refer to people who seek to settle disputes and secure their rights by carrying on a lawsuit against their own relations. ’Tis better to yield one’s rights than to secure them at too great a cost. The Uji people have another proverb that is closely allied to this. They say: “Though the beast is dainty-mouthed, it does not eat its collar-bell.” Though fond of dainties, even the dog will not swallow the ornament about its neck be it never so attractive.

If your wife becomes a widow, who will cook for you? (Telugu).
The Telugu people sometimes refer to a blockhead in the proverb, “When his brother-in-law said to him, ‘O brother-in-law! your wife has become a widow,’ he cries bitterly.”

If you see your neighbour’s beard on fire, water your own. (Martinique Creole).
Advice given to people who, seeing the results of wrongdoing in others, refuse to turn from their evil ways.
See “Wit and Humour in Proverbs.” “One man’s beard is burning, another goes to light his cigarette by it.”
“I much doubt the Creole origin of any proverb relating to the beard. This one like many others in the collection of Creole proverbs has probably been borrowed from a European source; but it furnishes a fine example of patois.”—Lafcadio Hearn.

In making a god, an ape turned up. (Bengalese).
My intentions were good, but the results of my action were evil.

It’s past joking when the head’s off. (Scotch).

“Neat but not gaudy,” as the devil said when he painted his tail sky-blue. (English).

Ten in the pocket; ten in the heart; ten in the pillow. (Kashmiri).
The man keeps his own counsel and it is not possible to discover what his opinions are.

The bat hanging upside down laughs at the topsy-turvy world. (Japanese).

The clown meets his death on the tree-top. (Bengalese).
If the clown was rash enough to climb the tree, it is his own fault if he falls. If a man deliberately engages in a hazardous undertaking for gain and meets with misfortune, like the tree climber he shows himself to be a clown and must not complain over the results.

The cripple seized a thief, and the blind man ran to his assistance. (Hindustani).

The monkey settled the bread dispute. (Telugu).
Two birds were quarrelling over a piece of bread when the monkey came and ate it.
The proverb is applied to those who seek their own advantage under pretence of arbitrating the disputes of others.
“Like the cat settling the dispute between two birds.” (Telugu). “Lawsuits make the parties lean, the lawyers fat.” (German). “‘The suit is ended,’ said the lawyer; ‘neither party has anything left.’” (German). “Fools and obstinate men make lawyers rich.” (English).

There are no fans in hell. (Arabic).

The snake only knows where its feet are. (Telugu).
This proverb is founded on the belief that the snake has invisible feet, and is used by the Telugus as an equivalent to the English saying, “Every man knows his own business best,” and the Scotch proverb, “Every man kens best where his own shoe pinches.” Another Telugu expresses the same thought, “The hunchback alone knows how he can lie comfortably.”

They say! What say they? Let them say. (Scotch).
“This was the motto of the Keiths, Earl Marischal, one of whom founded Marischal College, in the University of Aberdeen.”—Andrew Cheviot.

My name is Twyford; I know nothing of the matter. (English).
I do not wish to be drawn into the controversy or have anything to do with the business. I was absent at the time.

“Nay, stay,” quoth Stinger, when his neck was in the halter. (English.)
The matter has gone too far to be stopped.

What is in your heart is in my pocket. (Kashmiri).
Your secret is known to me, so that it behooveth you to be careful in dealing with me. I have you in my power.

What mak’s you sae rumgunshach, and me sae curcuddoch? (Scotch).
Rumgunshach, i.e., rude. Curcuddoch, i.e., kind. What makes you so rude to me when I am so kind to you?

When the tutor is blind, and the pupil deaf; if the first ask an apple, the other will give him a pea. (Hindustani).
This proverb is generally applied to people who do not understand each other.

Who has seen the peacock dance in the forest? (Hindustani).
Who has seen a man of ability display his talents among those who are totally unable to appreciate his worth?