Tag Archives: proverb

“Closed mouths don’t get fed”

1. Text (proverb)

“Closed mouths don’t get fed”

2. Context 

The informant heard this from his father numerous times growing up. He and his father use and interpret this proverb as a way of saying you need to speak up for what you want because if you don’t ask, nobody knows that you want or need anything. My informant heard this proverb from his father. He characterized his father as assertive and outspoken. Growing up, it was encouraged in the informant’s household for them to speak up to be heard and use their voice, don’t be passive. He came from a large, loud family where it was uncommon for people to engage passively with one another. Almost everyone had a voice and wanted to use it, because after all, “closed mouths don’t get fed.”

3. Analysis/YOUR interpretation

I have heard this saying numerous times growing up from my grandfather and from adults in my family in general, though I’ve never heard the saying outside of the south. This is an example of a proverb, it’s a piece of metaphorical advice often given to more stereotypically soft-spoken or passive. While I’ve heard of the proverb and understand the meaning behind it, I recognize I don’t usually appreciate it when this is said to me as I feel as though it can sometimes come off as disingenuous and has a more negative connotation to me. In saying “closed mouths don’t get fed”, I interpreted it as if you don’t speak up for yourself and voice your opinion on what you want, how will anyone else know what you want or need? While this piece of advice does have some truth to it, the saying itself doesn’t seem like it would be taken as exceedingly positive when told to a more passive person. For people who are more extroverted and who thrive in social situations or gain energy/confidence from social interactions, speaking may be as necessary as eating for them, hence the comparison of closed mouths not getting food. In line with Alan Dundes’ definition, this proverb, like many others, is concise and expressive of my informant’s worldview. This proverb in particular is expressive of an assertive, outspoken view where speaking up, gets your voice heard. 

冻得像个寒号鸟 (Dong De Xiang Ge Han Hao Niao): Frozen Like a Winter-Cry Bird


A is one of my best friends. She is a senior in high school from my hometown. Her parents immigrated from China, and she was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and spent her early years as a child in Chicago before moving to San Diego. 

The context of this piece was during a facetime call in which I asked her to share some pieces of folklore with me. 

In Mandarin Chinese, there are many sayings that are short metaphors and morals derived from origin folktales, often involving animals or foolish people. These sayings are known as 成语 (chengyu). 


A: “So when I was younger, my dad and I had this routine that we would go through every time we went out. And it was always my dad saying ‘Go grab a jacket, it’s gonna be cold.’ And I’d be like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ And then I would go out and I’d be cold. And he would see me being cold. And when he would give me his jacket, he would also be like, ‘冻得像个寒号鸟,’ which, in English, is ‘frozen like this specific species of bird.’ The story behind it is that there’s like, there was this bird called 寒号鸟, and it lived in this tree. And summer ended, and fall approached like all of these birds were flying south right? And they were always like, ‘寒号鸟, you have to come south with us. You’re gonna freeze to death.’ And the bird would always be like, ‘No, it’s too late, I don’t want to go.’ And then more and more birds were flying and leaving, and it just wouldn’t go because it was lazy. And then winter actually came and it couldn’t fly through the snow and then it froze to death. So that’s why my dad was always like, ‘冻得像个寒号鸟.’

Me: “How do you feel about that particular phrase?

A: “I definitely feel some exasperation, almost, because it would be like, ‘Okay, I get it.’ You’re saying I should have listened to you and I should have listened to your advice. And I shouldn’t be lazy. I should go grab a jacket.’

Me: “Do you find that it’s helped your habit at all?”

A: “I mean, I think all kids grow up to become more responsible. And I don’t think he’s said that in a really long time, actually. But it’s something that I remember.”


This story seems to have many different versions, but for the most part, the context is the same. The lessons of some of the other documented versions of this story seem to be focused on discouraging laziness and lack of preparation, and tend to be utilized for situations beyond literally freezing. In A’s instance, however, it is about literally being prepared for the cold. However, to me, it seems to be less about laziness and more about just not acting like you can handle more cold than you can, and her father seems to be comparing her to the bird in terms of the cold rather than saying she’s being lazy. Parents, especially when their children are young, often take pleasure in proving themselves right. For something like wearing a jacket in the cold, this is one of the most common ones, even across cultures. For Chinese Americans, though, it ties in with its own story — beyond a simple “I told you so” into a fixed phrase for a specific occurrence.

Persian Proverb – “The king and his kingdom”


“The King and his kingdom”


MB is 19 years old from Southern California. She is currently studying at the University of California, Berkley. Both her parents were born in Iran and immigrated to the United States as children. This proverb was often used by her mother to describe her father, usually in a joking manner. She informed me that her mother used this proverb to poke fun at her father when he was being strict towards her and her brother. This is the English translation of a Persian proverb.


This proverb traditionally means that a king’s kingdom is where his power lays. It refers to the idea “a king is only as powerful as his kingdom.” It is interesting that my informant’s mother used this to joke about my informant’s father. It has a general implication of a male centric power structure. It uses the phrase king and relates his power to the control of his kingdom.  In reference to her family, it was used to poke fun at this male centric dynamic. The way this proverb was used in my informant’s family shows how specific communities within a culture can use or interpret common cultural, in this case proverbs, in their own way. Even within one culture, there will be a lot of variation in the use of specific proverbs, or even the meaning of those proverbs.

Persian Proverb “The neighbor’s chicken is a goose”


“The neighbor’s chicken is a goose.”


MB is a 19 year old currently studying at the University of California, Berkley. She grew up in Southern California, but both of her parents are from Iran.  Her grandmother, also from Iran, has taught her a lot of interesting Persian proverbs. She does not remember them in the native Farsi, but she knows the English translations. When I asked her if she knew any proverbs and she said, “I remember this one especially because it was so weird to me.”


This proverb speaks to a few interesting features of Iranian culture. My informant shared that she was told that this proverb means that people usually want what they do not have or, similarly, that things they do have, do not measure up to what others have. This proverb also speaks on what was traditionally seen as important in the culture and what values were held. The goose is the thing to be coveted rather than a chicken. This would imply that goose was more rare, worth more, or held a more significant meaning when this proverb came into existence. It also shows that coveting what others have is generally not seen as a good practice. This proverb speaks to deter people from this kind of behavior, which is still its function today. The neighbor’s “duck” is in fact a chicken, just like everybody else. This proverb is likely spoken to share wisdom to younger children or to remind someone if they are coveting something they do not have.

“Τα μάτια σου τέσσερα.”

This proverb comes from my friend LP who is Greek. 


“Τα μάτια σου τέσσερα.” The translation roughly means “use four eyes.”

“Τα μάτια σου δεκατέσσερα.” The translation roughly means “use fourteen eyes.”


“My mom and my yia-yia (a.k.a. grandma) will use the first saying whenever I go out somewhere they consider somewhat dangerous,” LP said. “For example, if I got dinner in the city with my friends, my mom would use that saying as I was walking out the door. It essentially means be careful and keep a lookout for danger. If I’m going somewhere that my mom considers to be super dangerous, she’ll use the second phrase. This just means be extra careful — hence the fourteen eyes instead of four.”


When LP told me the first saying, I thought it was interesting and that the number four made sense as I’ve heard things like “I have a pair eyes on the back of my head.” When she followed it up with the second saying about fourteen eyes, I was surprised at the huge jump in numbers and it got me curious about the number four itself since it was found in both sayings. I found that in Greek mythology, four is the number of Jupiter who is the “master of the protection and the justice,” which fit along perfectly with the context Leia provided for the phrase. The phrases are sweet and endearing as they imply caring about the wellbeing of loved ones.