Proverb – United States of America

Eagles may soar, but weasels never get sucked into jet engines.

I first came across this in a school yearbook during high school—someone had written it down, and I thought it was clever. I have not yet been able to use this statement in everyday conversation, but I’ve kept it tucked in the back of my mind.

When I initially saw this proverb, I thought it was funny. Eagles usually have a positive connotation as somewhat righteous creatures, while weasels are recognized as the exact opposite, lying and cheating to get themselves ahead. These ideas are largely propagated through fables, and also through the national identity of U.S. citizens. The eagle is a national symbol, making its way onto the Seal of the United States, effectively displaying a positive image (at least, in this country).

In this proverb, the eagle presents itself as a noble creature, especially due to the word choice with respect to “soar.” The eagle is presented someone grandly in the first part of the statement, but this comes to a screeching halt once the second part of the statement is examined. To me, this proverb seems to say that while being noble is nice, it won’t necessarily get you ahead. Rather than possessing desirable traits that are characteristic of the American connotation of the eagle, behaving more like a weasel might ensure you success in the long run. Instead of being sucked into a jet engine and suffering a painful (but probably brief) death, the weasel will presumably meet a happier end.

Taken further, this proverb might be saying that a person’s great achievements might also be his or her downfall. Instead of merely being “noble” or “righteous,” a person’s actions might be their downfall. In real life, it would be in the act of soaring (flying) that an eagle would get sucked into a jet engine. If the eagle was just standing on a tree limb or sitting in a nest, then the likelihood of being sucked into a jet engine goes down significantly. By being in the air and flying around, the eagle is far more susceptible to being a victim of an airplane accident.

In terms of the weasel, this proverb appears to be saying that lying, cheating, and trickery—that is, stereotypical characteristics of a weasel—may be better in the long run. At first, this idea may be surprising…wouldn’t it be better to be a respectable eagle? However, American culture continues to show that in order to get ahead, you may need to abandon being an honest person. One example of this that comes to mind happened a few months ago in December 2007. A six-year-old girl wrote an essay for a contest: the grand prize was a pair of tickets to a Hannah Montana concert (Hannah Montana is a wildly popular singer/actress among children and young teenagers). Her essay about her father who served and died in Iraq was a very touching story, and she won the contest. Later, the media discovered that the girl had been lying. Because she was caught, the prize was taken away from her; however, if she had managed to keep the truth of her story under wraps, she would have reaped the reward for her efforts as a “weasel.”