Tag Archives: proverb

Meaning Behind The Proverb “Hope For The Best, Prepare For The Worst”

Main Piece: 

Original Proverb: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” 

Meaning as told by my informant: 

“It’s honestly pretty self explanatory. It’s good to be an optimist… you should always root for what you want and have faith. However, you can’t be naive about it. You should always have some kind of plan B or safety net if things don’t go as planned. The idea of this line is that you have to balance those two things. Offence and defense. Feet on the ground, head in the clouds… dream big, but be okay if things don’t work out.” 

Background:

My informant is my father, who is a retired doctor. Although he was a surgeon, his work mainly consisted of him doing expert witness work in legal cases. He first heard this proverb while preparing for a case, and he still primarily associates the saying with attorneys. However, he believes it applies to all contexts of life. While he’s a big fan of proverbs and jokes in general, this one is likely his favorite. As his child, I can vouch that he says this all the time. 

Context: 

While I’m not in quarantine with my informant/father, I do call him every day, and this piece was collected during a routine call. 

Thoughts: 

To me, this proverb will always be my father’s best advice. Having been involved in the performing arts since a young age, I have countless distinct memories of my father reciting this proverb to me as he picked me up from auditions. He said it before I opened every college admission letter. No matter what I was doing, I could always count on him telling me to “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” I don’t think of it as being optimistic or skeptical, it’s just real. One of the things I love about this proverb is that it can apply to not just any situation, but any culture. I briefly Googled this proverb after my interview, and found that there really is no origin to it. There are countless articles with countless nationalities. I think this saying speaks to the human experience in general: we’re all just trying to live life the best we can. We want to see the beauty in the world, but not be hurt by life’s struggles. It’s theater’s drama and comedy, or Chinese mythology’s Yin and Yang. We are all trying to find a balance. 

Meaning Behind The Proverb “In The Land of The Blind, The One Eyed Man is King.”

Main Piece:

Original Text (Latin): “In regione caecorum rex est luscus.”

Translation: “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.” 

Meaning as told by my informant:

“It means that if everything is bad, and one thing is less bad, then it’s automatically the best. It plays on the idea of ‘best’ being a relative term. So literally speaking, someone who has sight in one eye can see more than someone who is blind. Therefore, he’s the best. He rules. In life, if you’re better than people at something, even if you’re not even good at it, you’ll be the best. It’s winning by default. If you were playing a game and the other team forfeited, your team won just because it didn’t quit. You didn’t do anything, but you still did more than the other kids.” 

Background: 

My informant is my mother, who grew up hearing this phrase and doesn’t remember learning it. When I asked her if she knew the saying’s origin, she said “it must’ve come somewhere with a king, so it’s probably European.” She likes the saying because it puts things in perspective: “Once you enter the real world, nothing is perfect. A lot of life is just getting things done the best you can. It’s not like in school where there are grades. Many times, the things that are best aren’t even very good. That can be very comforting or very concerning, depending on your belief system. I think it’s kind of beautiful.” 

Context: 

I am currently in quarantine at my informant/mother’s house, and this piece was collected while we were eating dinner at the kitchen table. 

Thoughts: 

I had always heard this saying in the context of someone getting something by default; they didn’t work hard for it, but they worked harder than others. However, after some research, I learned this specific phrasing is taken from an Erasmus quote in Latin that dates back to 1500, which is likely based off of a Hebrew excerpt from Genesis in the Old Testament “בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא סגי נהור”, which translates to “In the street of the blind, the one eyed man is called the Guiding Light.” Once I saw that this proverb is Biblical, it gave me a new perspective on my mother’s idea that it’s “kind of beautiful.” In the Bible, Jesus always says people are perfectly imperfect. While the English proverb in particular is competitive, it also shows that sometimes, even the best people aren’t perfect. I think this saying is a good example of how a proverb can change over time. Biblically, it means that we are all human, and we shouldn’t be so hard on each other. But today, it generally means someone wasn’t good, they were just better. While I don’t imagine myself using this proverb in its original context, it does give me a new appreciation for the saying itself. 

For more information on the proverb’s origin:

Wiktionary. “In-the-Land-of-the-Blind-the-One-Eyed-Man-Is-King.” 

“Not knowing is the medicine” (모르는게 약이다)

Main Piece : 

“모르는게 약이다.”

Original Script : 모르는게 약이다

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Morununge yak-ee-da

Transliteration : Not knowing is the medicine.

Full Translation : There is truth that is better off not knowing. 

Context :

My informant is an adult male who was born in the Gangwon Area of Korea, which is located on the East side of the peninsula. He received Korean education throughout his life and he now works in Korea. Here, he is describing a commonly used proverb that is used in the Korean society. He is identified as S in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English. 

S : So this proverb, which sounds more like a common saying is used when, for example, some person is trying to dig up information that will be harmful to them. For example, if your friend is trying to dig into a gossip full of drama, you would tell her, “there is truth that is better off not knowing”. This saying translates into how knowing unneeded facts can be harmful to you and thus makes not-knowing a medicine. 

Analysis :

I personally liked this example because this is a saying that I, myself use it a lot too. This is one of the best known proverbs in the Korean society, and it applies to a lot of situations. This proverb reminds me of my grandmother telling me this proverb whenever I became curious about what the adults were talking about whenever we had big family gatherings. Whether it is a school gossip or politics, there are some things that are better off not knowing. I like how the description of ‘knowing unneeded facts’ is considered harmful and not knowing is not even neutral but a medicine for one. 

“The bird will listen to what you say during daytime and the mouse will listen to what you say during nighttime” (낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다)

Main Piece : 

“낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다”

Original Script : 낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Natmalun saegadutgo bammalun jwigadutneunda

Transliteration : The bird will listen to what you say during daytime and the mouse will listen to what you say during nighttime

Full Translation : There will always be someone who listens to what you are saying, so be careful everytime when you speak

Context :

My informant is an adult male who was born in the Gangwon Area of Korea, which is located on the East side of the peninsula. He received Korean education throughout his life and he now works in Korea. Here, he is describing a commonly used proverb that is used in the Korean society. He is identified as S in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English. 

S : This is a pretty common one too. I don’t think this only pertains to the Korean society but it is true that you need to be aware of what you say no matter what. If you are gossiping about someone in public, actually, even in private, you never know who will be listening to you and spread the word. It’s kinda sad because it seems like it’s trying to tell us that there is no one to trust in this world but also tells us that you, yourself, need to shut your mouth and don’t make unnecessary comments about others and mind your own business. 

Analysis :

This proverb was very interesting because of the animals who will be listening to the person talking. We can also learn that a lot of Korean proverbs have animals taking action. By introducing the bird and the mouse as listeners, it makes the audience imagine birds flying around and mice running around to spread the message of the gossip. Upon my research, I also found a very interesting article that was published by JoongAng Ilbo in 2010, that shows a possible scientific explanation to this. This article talked about the movement of the sound; sound moves from cold places to hotter places due to refraction and during the day, the sound moves from the ground to the sky due to the sunlight and its heat. On the other hand, during the night, the air cools down as the sun sets and the ground is comparatively warmer because of the lingering heat inside the soil. Thus, during the day, the birds are more likely to hear what someone is saying because they are in the sky, and during the night, the mice are more likely to listen to what someone is saying. Before this project, I just thought this proverb was only meant to give a lesson to be aware of what you say to others. However, learning a scientific background made this quote more interesting and I wonder if any more proverbs have a scientific explanation to it too. 

Armenian Proverb About Reputation

հոգի գնա, ոչ թե անունը

Transliteration: hogi gna, voch’ t’e anuny

Translation: The soul can rise, but the name stays.

Better to die than to have your image/name tarnished.

Background Information: Armenian proverb used by Armenians around the world.

Context: I was told this proverb by the informant when I was interviewing him about his culture. I was specifically interested in learning about Armenian proverbs because of the wide use of them in the Armenian culture.

Thoughts: I think that this proverb definitely provides a glimpse into the Armenian culture. It shows how paramount image can be in Armenian society. It would be better for your soul to leave your body than to have a bad reputation. I think it is interesting to note the matter of fact quality of this proverb. It lacks much use of figurative speech and is very straightforward about its motive/meaning.

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.

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.

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: 

“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.