The informant (D), a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.
D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.
This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.
Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”
D: “Because we were young and fought a lot, my mom would often repeat wisdom to us… One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez’, which means that people could hurt you like… physically, but you will heal from those. But when people try to hurt one another with like words or insults, it will stick with them. People will feel the pain for a very long time, and they will think a lot about it. My mom would tell us she would rather pick us up from school for fighting than to hear that we were calling someone names or trying to insult someone like… personally.”
Turkish: “Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez”
English Translation: “A knife wound will heal, but a tongue wound festers”
As D explained what this Turkish saying was, I kept thinking back to an English phrase that I heard a lot as a child. I would always be told that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will/should never hurt you.” I find the difference in cultures very interesting, as his parents would almost encourage physical violence over emotional or verbal insults – almost saying that an attack on one’s character is one of the worst things. It makes sense that this would be taught young, as children are the most impressionable both in terms of learning right from wrong and being negatively affected by insults. Growing up in American schools, I witnessed teachers trying to prevent physical fighting more aggressively than verbal or emotional insults, but D’s family would rather let the kids fight physically (reasonably, of course) than have them call each other names or insult them. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that these values carried over from his mother.