Category Archives: Proverbs

Tamil Proverb

ஆபத்துக்கு பாவமில்லை

“Necessity has no law.”

Informant Info

Nationality: Indian

Age: 55

Occupation: Chief Information Officer

Residence: Las Vegas, Nevada

Date of Performance/Collection: 2023

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Tamil

Relationship: Father

Referred to as JS.  JS was born in India and moved to the United States when he was 22. 


The proverb suggests that in times of great need or urgency, people may be willing to take risks or bend the rules to achieve their goals or to meet their needs.


While growing up in the village, JS heard this from his parents and relatives.  The Tamil proverb “Necessity has no law” is a saying that expresses the idea that when faced with a pressing need or situation, people may act in ways that are outside of the norms or laws of society. 


The proverb’s message is that necessity may override society’s usual rules and conventions in certain situations. However, it is essential to note that this does not mean that the laws or regulations are unimportant, but instead that the moment’s needs may sometimes require individuals to act outside of their usual bounds.

In essence, the proverb is a reminder that in times of great need or urgency, people may be willing to take actions they might not normally consider to meet their goals or fulfill their needs. It also highlights the importance of understanding the context and circumstances that drive people to act in specific ways and to approach these actions with empathy and understanding.

Chinese Dream Proverb

Text: Well, ever since my mom’s brother suddenly died at the age of 62– two years ago, I think this proverb has continued to provide my mom with a sense of comfort and release. “All in life is a dream walking, and all in death is a going home.” She passes this on to anyone in need of feeling at peace with recent tragedies or deaths. I think that for her, it’s a reminder to feel grateful for the joyful parts of life and that…when death comes, one part has fulfilled their purpose.

Context: K is twenty-one years old and of Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish descent. She was raised in San Francisco, California. Her maternal grandparents are Asian immigrants whose culture she was raised with.

Analysis: K’s mother told her the quote above is a Chinese proverb. K would frequently hear proverbs from her mother while growing up, typically used and repeated as little bits of advice or reminders throughout a day. In Chinese culture it’s considered a sign of a good education to include proverbs in your writing or advice to others. Proverbs speak on a range of topics– often moral, like patience or kindness to strangers. They intend to provide wisdom to its listeners, and are meant to be respected by both the speaker and the listener even if not always successfully followed. Many proverbs are accredited to Confucius or Lao Tzu (although some are miscredited), but many don’t have distinctive roots with one speaker or author. The majority of proverbs were passed down in oral traditions among the peasant class in China, and were not written down until years, sometimes hundreds of years after their inception. Many proverbs still haven’t been translated to English. This makes sense why there isn’t much available on the proverb above other than the quote itself. However, its ruminations on the meaning of life, death, and dreams are not uncommon topics for proverbs. It’s also interesting to note that traditional Chinese medicine believes that one’s dreams are directly related to their physical health, hence the proverb’s association with dream and “life” or the living, bodily world.  

Drop the Roach

Interviewee: ES; Interviewer’s Housemate

“So this is really common in stoner culture. The superstition is that if you drop the roach someone’s sleeping with your partner.”

interviewer asks: “Can you explain what a ‘roach is’?”

“Yeah so like-” *interviewee shuffles around on the bed for a second and pulls out an old mint tin from under their pillow*

“a roach is like the, um, the end of the joint? Kinda. It’s the part closest to the filter.” *interviewee pulls out a soot covered filter from their tin*

Interviewer asks: “so can you explain where the superstition come from?”

“Not entirely sure! When I first started smoking, I accidentally dropped the joint on the floor and my friend at the time was like, ‘yoooo someone’s fucking your bitch’. I genuinely-” *interviewee begins to laugh* “I really don’t know where that came from but apparently it’s a thing. Almost like a sign of bad luck?”

My interpretation: I think this is the funniest thing to come out of stoner culture. It feels synonymous to the Mexican saying “que te robaste?” when you get the hiccups. I think it’s just a way to point out someone’s anxiety or clumsiness when doing the activity. It’s treated more like an omen of bad luck. (I’ve never dropped the roach, is all I’m saying)

No One is So Young…Nor So Old

Nadie es tan joven que no se pueda morir mañana, ni tan viejo que no pueda vivir un día más. (“No one is so young that they cannot die tomorrow, nor so old that they cannot live another day.”)


MD is my roommate’s friend here at USC. She is originally from Miami Beach, Florida and has lived there her whole life. She was raised by Argentinian parents who immigrated to Florida when they were in their teenage years. She describes her parents as both free spirited and herself in the same fashion. 


MD: I think my parents both always had these really poetic and pretty sounding sayings growing up just because of the type of people that they are. If I had to pick one I’d say, “Nadie es tan joven que no se pueda morir mañana, ni tan viejo que no pueda vivir un día más.”

DO (Interviewer): Can you explain more about that?

MD: Well a literal translation of it is “No one is too old that they can’t live another day, nor too young that they cannot die tomorrow.” My mom always says it to me. 

DO: What do you think the significance is to her? Or even what does it mean to you?

MD: My mom is a free spirit, live in the moment type of woman for sure. So I think this is her way of saying two things actually. The first part is saying you’re never too old to go after what you want. Never too old for adventure. The second part is more of a warning I guess. I think a lot of people, especially in our generation, have a “live fast, die young” mentality. To me this phrase is like a balance thing. Go after what you want because it’s never too late, but also remember that what you do can have consequences. 


Even though the saying is in Spanish it has more of a lifestyle type of folklore than a cultural one. Societal norms may place certain restrictions or even uphold certain ideals based on age and common perceptions of certain age groups. This phrase can serve as a statement to break these ideas of what age means and go against the grain of what expectations are placed on you based on your age. Western culture has a notion of the youth being reckless and free and the older generations being wise and sometimes even sort of stagnant in their lifestyle. With phrases like these, it’s an encouragement to break these norms. Additionally, this phrase can stand to represent the importance of life itself, encouraging others to enjoy it while it’s here but also live in a way that lets you enjoy it as much as possible. It can also stand to talk about time and how we all have these ideas about it. Some believe they have a set amount of time here and others feel, in a sense, immortal. This phrase works to explore that. 

It’s easier to shear a sheep than raise a lamb to sheep-hood

Text: It’s easier to shear a sheep than raise a lamb to sheep-hood

Minor Genre: Proverb

Context: AH is a junior at USC. He is from Santa Monica, California, and is well-known for his creativity: he has his own religion for which he has created an entire alphabet. He told me this new proverb that he had come up with himself while writing an essay. He told me, “It’s about writing essays, but it could be about editing a film, it could be about a lot of things that you’re creating…” He told me that the process of creation is much easier if you begin by creating a lot, because after that it’s just about “shear[ing] it off and collect[ing] the wool and mak[ing] something out of it.’” He recounted his new saying to a friend who now uses it often. This friend then told it to her screenwriting professor who has apparently since used it while teaching his students.  

Analysis: AH did not clearly delineate which type of speech his saying was, but I assert that this is a proverb. It gives advice, it is metaphorical and short, and though AH is young, his soul is old and wise. While there is so much to be learned from old proverbs whose origins are now indefinite, it is also important to understand how pieces of folklore are created in the first place. For many proverbs, one might assume that the literal situation which creates metaphorical meaning was probably experienced by the person who first spoke the proverb. However, I know that AH did not grow up shearing sheep nor raising lambs, and thus it makes me consider how self-reflexive folk speech can be. He is someone who values old sayings and has a wealth of them memorized, and so it is more the inspiration of other proverbs rather than lived experience that seems to have brought him to create his own. It is wonderful to see how this proverb has already begun to spread throughout the USC community, and it will be interesting to see if it catches on elsewhere.