Category Archives: Proverbs

Russian Proverb about Work Ethic

Если вы спешите, вы будете смеяться всех

Transliteration: Yesli vy speshite, vy budete smeyat’sya vsekh

Translation: If you rush, you will make everybody laugh

You shouldn’t rush when working on something because you will end up being laughed at.

Background Information: Russian proverb used in colloquial conversations.

Context: The informant told me this proverb during a video call in which I asked her to tell me a popular Russian proverb.

Thoughts: I think that this proverb represent the kind of work ethic that Russians appreciate. It is not about the quantity of the work, but the quality. I also think that it is an example of the importance of self presentation in Russian society. It is more important to take your time and not look like a fool than to rush and embarrass yourself by being hasty.

Russian Proverb About Unreliable People

7 пятниц в неделю

Transliteration: 7 pyatnits v nedelyu

Translation: 7 Fridays in a week

Proverb used to describe a person who has a lot of plans, but they never get the work done.

Background Information: Russian proverb used in many parts of Russia. The informant told me that back then, Friday was the market day in which people could collect the goods one week and the next they would pay for them. Sometimes people would not pay and make excuses as to why they didn’t pay.

Context: The informant told me this proverb during a video call in which I asked her to tell me a popular Russian proverb.

Thoughts: I think this proverb is used to describe unreliable people who make too many excuses. I believe this shows that Russian’s appreciate reliability and detest fickle behavior.

Arabic Proverb

إذا ضربت الماء فسيظل الماء.

Transliteration: iidha darabat alma’ fasayazilu alma

Translation: If you hit the water it will still be water

When someone is trying to explain something to someone else and they are not absorbing the information.

Background Information: Common Arabic proverb used in different parts of the middle east such as Lebanon.

Context: The informant had immigrated to the United States from Lebanon when he was in his adolescence. I started interviewing the informant when he visited my house for dinner. I specifically asked him for a common Arabic proverb and this was the first that came into his mind.

Thoughts: I think that this proverb doesn’t explain much about Arabic culture but is just a simple way of explaining that someone is not understanding what you are saying. It reminds me of the American proverb that says that “talking to you is like talking to a wall”. This just means that that there is no productive communication being made.

Armenian Proverb about Judgement

Մի՛ հաշվեք շնորհալի ձիու ատամները

Transliteration: Mi՛ hashvek’ shnorhali dziu atamnery

Translation: Don’t count the teeth of a horse that is gifted

Explanation: Do not judge gifts you recieve by it’s price, quality, brand, etc. Just appreciate that someone was nice.

Background Information: Common Armenian proverb used across the diaspora.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian proverb that she knows about.

Thoughts: I think this proverb is trying to say that you should not judge people or objects based on how nice you think they are. You should just appreciate without expecting greatness. I think this can show that Armenians think that materialism is not important and should not be used to judge the worth of a person.

Armenian Proverb About a Fox

Երբ աղվեսը չի կարողանում հասնել խաղողի, աղվեսը ասում է, որ դեռ հասունացած չէ

Transliteration: Yerb aghvesy ch’i karoghanum hasnel khaghoghi, aghvesy asum e, vor derr hasunats’ats ch’e

Translation: When the fox cannot reach the grape, the fox says that the grape is not ripe yet.

Explanation: When some people cannot reach their goals, they would always make excuses to justify why they haven’t.

Background Information: Popular Armenian proverb usually used by Armenians in Armenia.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian proverb that she knows about.

Thoughts: I think this proverb shows that Armenians value hard workers and do not believe in making excuses as to why you have not succeeded in your dreams and goals. I believe that a fox was used in this proverb because of the fox being a symbol of trickery and slyness. I think the fox is used to show that by making excuses you are trying to get away with not having to work hard and being able to actualize your aspirations.

Mexican proverb

Main piece: 

“El que mal obra, mal le va” 

Transliteration: 

He that wrong does, wrong you goes

Full translation: 

He who does wrong, wrong he does 

Background: My informant was my dad. He was born in Mexico City but moved to LA at the age of 15. He brought this proverb up during a conversation we were having about a family friend’s mild car accident. When I asked him when he learned this proverb, he said he’s known it since he was 7 and that his dad told it to him when they were both working at a donut house in Mexico. 

Context: My dad was telling me about a close family friend who got into a car accident, a very small and almost insignificant hit. However, the victim here was requesting $25,000 in medical expenses 15 months after the accident. He was telling me that based on the description of the accident, such as speed and car damages, his friend couldn’t have seriously hurt the other person. My dad called him a fake and dishonest person and said this proverb to encourage me to always be honest and have word. 

Thoughts: This is a very wise proverb. I even consider it as advice because there are so many dishonest people nowadays who take advantage of circumstances and individuals. Sometimes it’s tempting to do wrong for one reason or another but I believe there is always a solution to problems and that a person’s word and credibility is most important. So this proverb teaches me that I should maintain good and life will eventually reward me and those who do wrong will do poorly in life.

Mexican saying

Main piece:

The following was transcribed from a conversation recorded between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: “Ahora si te cacharon con las manos en la masa” 

Transliteration: 

Now yes they caught you with the hands on the dough

Full translation: 

Now they caught you in the act of the crime 

Interviewer: Why dough? Why does it have to be dough? 

Informant: I don’t know. It’s just a saying that’s well known. For example if you’re stealing and your mom were to catch you red-handed, then one would say “they caught him red-handed in the action”.

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions and legends and sayings. He knows this one pretty well from other people but that he never had to use that line to his daughter (my mom). It just stuck with him and he hears me and my sister say it a lot in the house. 

Context: I hadn’t thought about this one as a folk speech at first because I forgot what I was doing but I was with my sister. And my sister had done some wrongdoing so I said “te van a cachar con las manos en la maza… on the dough”. And then my sister said wait can’t you use that for your collection project and I thought about it and then proceeded to ask my grandpa more about it. 

Thoughts: I definitely overuse this one with my sister. I find it funny and it definitely lets the other person know they are exposed. I still do not know why “maza” as in dough but I know the meaning behind it- which is that they got caught red-handed. However, it’s not a saying that is commonly used. I think it’s used to create emphasis and drama more than anything. 

Mexican proverb

Main piece: 

“Más vale que la lleves y no la ocupes a que no la lleves y la necesites” 

Transliteration:

More better that the takes and no the uses to that no the takes and the needs

Full translation:

It’s better to have it and not use it than having to use it and not having it 

Background: My informant here was my grandma who’s staying with us during COVID-19. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico but lives in the U.S. with us for the most part. This recorded proverb wasn’t really an interview. I heard her say it to my mom during mid sentence and I was able to catch on to it. After I asked my grandma to repeat it for me so I can jot it down. She added that she learned it “a long time ago” and that because of it she’s always prepared for everything. 

Context: My mom was going shopping and paying bills. It was mid to late afternoon and the sun was still. She was saying bye to us when my grandma asked “do you have a sweater” to which my mom replied “no, it’s still kind of warm” and my grandma countered with the transcribed proverb and my mom ended up taking it (although I think she did just to please my grandma). 

Thoughts: I’ve heard the proverb many times, usually because my mom tells it to me when I go out. And after analyzing it a little more, I guess it’s true. It’s better to be prepared, even over prepared,  than to need something and not have it (unprepared). For example, in the case of taking a sweater when you go out. Sometimes you don’t use the sweater and you just carry it along with you. But other times, maybe it gets cold or it rains and you happen to take the sweater, so you put it on. It is in these scenarios where you benefit a lot.

Mexican saying

Main piece:

“Calladita te ves más bonita” 

Transliteration: 

Quiet you look more pretty

Full translation: 

You look prettier quiet 

Background: My informant was my mom and this proverb was something I collected while she was scolding my sister. I asked her later about the proverb (what it meant exactly even though I knew). She gave me valuable insight and mentioned that my grandma would tell my mom and aunt that as kids whenever they sounded silly attempting to defend themselves from wrongdoing. 

Context: My sister was being scolded by my mom for having a mess in her room. My mom started going off tangent and bringing more and more stuff into the argument. My sister would retaliate and call out my mom on certain things. But there was a line that my sister said that did not help her case a lot and that’s when my mom said the recorded proverb above. 

Thoughts: Sometimes I feel like my mom overuses this proverb in order to keep my sister from talking but other times it hits right. In this example it fits right because whatever my sister has said, all I know is that it didn’t help her case, was nonsense and my mom pretty much said to stop talking because she’s not helping herself. In other words, my sister would be doing herself a favor by not talking and metaphorically flopping all over the place with words.

“Iru di nma adiro nma itu mbo”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community.

  • “Iru di nma adiro nma itu mbo”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Iru: face
      • Di nma: is nice, beautiful
      • Adiro: is not
      • Nma: nice
      • Itu: to throw
      • Mbo: nail
    • Full Translation: A beautiful face is not good to be scratched, meaning do not ruin a good relationship or look for trouble where there is none.
      • Explanation: This proverb is especially important to my dad because it represents a warning against telling lies or spreading unsupported allegations about someone. My dad learned this from his own father. This expression presents a metaphorical scenario where an individual scratches[falsely accuses] a beautiful[innocent]person. It means that a person in power should not accuse someone without any valid evidence and that in doing so you are not only telling a lie about that person, but you are also ruining a possible relationship and starting unnecessary trouble.  

Thoughts: I have to agree with the premise of this proverb because I grew up in a household that always emphasized the importance of never telling lies and not starting trouble. The saying is indicative of many of the life experiences that my parents have amassed living here in the United States. My dad, in particular, suffered a lot of hardships from individuals that would take his kindness and trust for granted and would try to discredit his character. However, this proverb speaks to a profound belief that my dad possesses. He believes in the law of karma, or the idea that if you lead a good life and stand by truth as opposed to lies that your good nature will be rewarded. I grew up with the heavy rhetoric of telling the truth and I honestly believe that it is one of the reasons why I am not a good liar. This proverb really speaks a lot of truth into who I am as a person, and who my dad still is. While I still tell the occasional white lie here and there, I do my best, to tell the truth, and I hope to pass that on to everyone I interact with.