Tag Archives: proverbs

“Mountains do not meet but people do”

The original language and script: Munte cu munte nu se-ntâlnește, dar om cu om se-ntâlnește.

The original is represented in Roman form as a Romanian proverb

The transliterated proverb: Mountain with mountain does not meet, but man with man meets

The fully translated proverb: A mountain doesn’t meet a mountain, but a man meets a man.

H: My mum always told me mountains do not meet but people do. I tell that to people till this day.

The informant communicated that this saying is one that always gives them hope of seeing someone again. That their paths will cross again for them to come face to face. It’s a reminder, for most, of how small our worlds really are. We are more connected than we know.

Russian Proverb About Unreliable People

7 пятниц в неделю

Transliteration: 7 pyatnits v nedelyu

Translation: 7 Fridays in a week

Proverb used to describe a person who has a lot of plans, but they never get the work done.

Background Information: Russian proverb used in many parts of Russia. The informant told me that back then, Friday was the market day in which people could collect the goods one week and the next they would pay for them. Sometimes people would not pay and make excuses as to why they didn’t pay.

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 this proverb is used to describe unreliable people who make too many excuses. I believe this shows that Russian’s appreciate reliability and detest fickle behavior.

Mexican saying

Main piece:

The following was transcribed from a conversation recorded between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: “Ahora si te cacharon con las manos en la masa” 


Now yes they caught you with the hands on the dough

Full translation: 

Now they caught you in the act of the crime 

Interviewer: Why dough? Why does it have to be dough? 

Informant: I don’t know. It’s just a saying that’s well known. For example if you’re stealing and your mom were to catch you red-handed, then one would say “they caught him red-handed in the action”.

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions and legends and sayings. He knows this one pretty well from other people but that he never had to use that line to his daughter (my mom). It just stuck with him and he hears me and my sister say it a lot in the house. 

Context: I hadn’t thought about this one as a folk speech at first because I forgot what I was doing but I was with my sister. And my sister had done some wrongdoing so I said “te van a cachar con las manos en la maza… on the dough”. And then my sister said wait can’t you use that for your collection project and I thought about it and then proceeded to ask my grandpa more about it. 

Thoughts: I definitely overuse this one with my sister. I find it funny and it definitely lets the other person know they are exposed. I still do not know why “maza” as in dough but I know the meaning behind it- which is that they got caught red-handed. However, it’s not a saying that is commonly used. I think it’s used to create emphasis and drama more than anything. 

“You shank it, you shag it.” Saying in soccer

Main Piece

Informant: “You shank it, you shag it.”

 It’s kinda like a motto you just say with friends when you are kicking the ball around. Whenever you are just messing around with friends, or at practice and you try and make a goal and you miss it, like completely,  you have to go get it. We are not there to shag balls for other people, especially if they missed super badly. So we just say it kinda as a rule.


The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, who is currently a senior at USC studying Health and Human Sciences whose family is living in a town four hours outside of Denver, Colorado. Coming from a military family, the informant has lived in various areas, the most memorable for him was New Orleans. The informant is half Korean and half Caucasian, and is a sports fanatic having played soccer for most of his life. The informant is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to several festivals a year, originally beginning to attend in his senior year of high school. 


While playing soccer for fun one day my informant taught me this quote that him and his friends from his soccer teams would frequently use. When he was willing to participate for an interview I brought it up and asked him to explain it to me. 


This use of folk speech and proverb set general rules and boundaries while soccer players are kicking and shooting goals. Being used in high school, it could reflect the morals and values coaches want to pass down to their players as it encapsulates the general notion of accountability and responsibility in a very pithy way. The alliteration also might help people use it more as it is easy to remember and to say.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다”

Original script: 가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Ganeun mal-i gowaya oneun mal-i gobda

Transliteration: If the word you say is good, then the word coming back at you is good

Full translation: What goes around comes around.

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as J. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to everyday life. J says that she thinks this proverb has the idea that if she were to give someone a compliment, they will compliment her back. And because of this proverb, she tries her best to say nice things to people instead of gossiping behind their backs.


I agree with J on this because it is a common belief that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. I think everyone, regardless of cultural background, should believe in this idea of treating others well because what goes around will come around. Just as some traditions believe in Karma, if you don’t treat others well, you will be punished and have to pay for your actions.

“The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong”

The original script is found in the Bible but originally written in Hebrew. “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, not the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Ecclesia 9:11

Full proverb: The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong

M: In church we like to say “the race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong”

My interpretation is that the fastest one doesn’t always win the race. Stuff happens. God (or fate) determines the outcome of the race. This is why we tell our children stories like the tortoise and the hare. It’s about the principles that they teach. The goal is to maintain humility even anticipated victory because the outcome in this world is the one thing we will never have control over. What this proverb teaches people is to drop their sense of entitlement but still hold onto their hope.

“Slow water runs deep”

The Virgin Islands are a nest for proverbial sayings. Each one bears a specific lesson that is passed down from generation to generation. A very common saying in the nature island of Dominica is “Slow water runs deep”. This is usually a phrase spoken by elders in a Caribbean community.

H: My mother used to say “slow water runs deep”

The original language and script is in Latin: altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi.

The transliterated proverb (word by word translation): depth each rivers minimum sound

The fully translated proverb: the deepest rivers flow with the least sound

The informant learned it from her grandmother when she was very young in Dominica. She remembers it because it taught her a lot about how to choose her friends wisely when she was in her formative years. From the informant’s perspective, she feels this is very telling of how our environment can deceive us. Her interpretation is to “never expect good from something that is stagnant” (H). It is normally thought that quiet people are less interesting but on the contrary, they are the ones who listen and observe. While some people may be quick to say what they’re thinking or reveal information about their life, others may feel more inclined to stay reserved. These tend to be individuals with the deepest stories to tell. When breaking down the mechanics of the proverb, we can begin to understand the analogy. Water that runs quickly would be like rivers and streams. Still or “slow” water is like lakes. The slower the current, the more shallow the waters. When we’re in streams or rivers, we can see what’s below the water (rocks, fish, etc…) but when we’re in a lake there’s no telling what we might find. There’s far more mystery in still waters.

A ghost who died while eating, still looks good


The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out. They use this proverb very frequently while in Korea.



Subject: “Ghost who died while eating, looks good. That’s a rough translation.

Interviewer: A ghost?

Subject: “A ghost who died eating, looks good, like has good skin color, looks healthy” actually say looks healthy. So when someone’s debating, ‘should I eat this or not? Like I’ve had so much food today, but I really want this last donut.” Other person, like trying to persuade them into eating, “dude, like even a ghost who died eating looks healthy, you know? Like even a ghost, who’s a dead entity, but even that ghost, looks better, arguably, than other ghosts, and he died while eating, so you should eat!”

Interviewer: Okay, are they — what is the point, why do they look better when they’re eating?

Subject: Because food, food is good for you.

Interviewer: Okay that makes sense. Do you use that often?

Subject: Mostly just old people do.

Interviewer: Old people love proverbs.

Subject: It’s their meme.



Another Korean proverb here, this one again having to do with food. As I said earlier, Asian countries pride themselves on creating a communal dining experience. Korean barbeque restaurants for example make it a point to have the eaters cook their meats together, solidifying it as a group-effort.


Why do you have to taste soy paste and shit to tell them apart?


The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.



Subject: It’s said in a way, like, “You don’t have to taste the soy paste and shit to tell them apart.” I think I’ve told you this already.

Interviewer: Yup I remember this.

Subject: Like soy paste kinda looks like shit, but most people are aware enough, like, we know from afar. But people who are so stupid, or like, people who go the extra mile to be safe. We say, “why do you have to taste shit and soy paste to tell them apart, why can’t you just — why aren’t you smarter?”

Interviewer: So that’s basically what you say to someone when they’re being dumb?

Subject: Yeah, if you’re being stupid, you’re tasting soy paste and shit to tell them apart.



I tried looking up the phrase, however I was unable to find any substantive background to the saying. The subject went on to tell me additional proverbs from Korea that also have to do with food, leading me to believe that the culture may have a great appreciation for it.

While the United States pride themselves on fast meals, a staple of Asian culture is the dining experience. It’s communal and meant to be shared.


“Stone On Your Heart”


The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.



Interviewer: So you’ve told us about this saying you have in Israel that basically corresponds with the American saying, “to have a weight on your shoulders.”

Subject: Yeah in Israel we say “you have a stone on your heart,” basically meaning the same thing, as you said, of having a weight on your shoulders or back or whatever. But in this case, it’s having a stone on your heart that is weighing it down, to say keeping your spirits down throughout the time you’re worrying about whatever it is holding you down.

Interviewer: Have you used the proverb in English and had people misunderstand?

Subject: Yeah it happens often with you guys. [Laughs]



It’s basically the same proverb as we use so often in America. When I went to look it up I had to scour through so many rock songs that had to do with having a Stone IN Your Heart. I couldn’t find anything about having a stone ON your heart, but I found many Bible verses talking about turning your heart into stone.

I know in the past certain countries used Stone as their metric of weight, while Israel might not be an example of one of those countries, it may point to a possible origin of the proverb.

The subject also told me of the Jewish tradition of placing rocks and gravestones, pointing to a possible importance of rocks in this culture.