A proverb (from Latin: proverbium) is a simple, concrete, traditional saying that expresses a perceived truth based on common sense or experience.
Proverbs contain home truths as well as universal truths. Naturally, therefore, they are translatable-so far as their meaning goes-from one developed language to another. Their appeal is direct. Many of them had their origin in folk literature; hence they are simple and unadorned. They point out the incongruities (inappropriateness) of situations in life, throw light on the diversity in human life and character, and contain a grain of advice to the wayward, the forlorn and the common folk. They are everyman’s philosophy. Every one of them tells a story in a single sentence. In fact, most of them have some history- legendary or real-behind them. Some of them are gems from the works of great masters, like Shakespeare, Dryden and Aesop, the Greek fable writer. Others go back to antiquity. Many of them come out of the Bible. Their meaning, often enough, is quite clear. Here are some proverbs with their meanings:
1. A bad workman always blames his tools.
This proverb is used when someone blames the quality of their equipment or other external factors when they perform a task poorly.
Example: X: The turkey isn’t cooked well because the oven is not functioning well. Y: Well, it’s the case of a bad workman blaming his tools.
2. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
Things we already have are more valuable than what we hope to get.
Example: X: Why did you turn down that job offer when you don’t have anything concrete in hand at the moment? Y: Well, I’m confident I’ll land one of the two jobs I interviewed for last week. And they’re better than this one. X: In my opinion, you should’ve taken it. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
3. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
When people we love are not with us, we love them even more.
Example: When I was with her she always fought with me but now she cries for me on phone. I think distance made her heart grow fonder.
4. A cat has nine lives.
Cat can survive seemingly fatal events.
Example: I haven’t seen him for several weeks, but I wouldn’t really worry about him. Everyone knows a cat has nine lives.
5. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
One weak part will render the whole weak.
Example: No matter how confident the team is, it is as strong as its weakest link – its defence.
6. Actions speak louder than words.
Actions are a better reflection of one’s character because it’s easy to say things, but difficult to act on them and follow through.
Example: Julie always says she’ll donate to the school, and she never does, so I doubt she will this year. Actions speak louder than words, after all.
7. A drowning man will clutch at a straw.
When someone is in a difficult situation, s/he will take any available opportunity to improve it.
Example: After trying all reliable medicines, he is now visiting quacks to get a cure for his baldness. A drowning man will clutch at a straw.
8. Adversity and loss make a man wise.
We gain wisdom faster in difficult times than in prosperous times.
Example: After losing money in my investments, I know which investments to avoid. It is rightly said adversity and loss make a man wise.
9. A fool and his money are soon parted.
Foolish people do not know how to hold on to their money.
Example: She gave up her entire estate on the basis of a verbal promise. A fool and his money are indeed easily parted.
10. A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.
Howsoever big a task is, it starts with a small step.
Example: I’m feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of completing 4,000-word paper by next week, but I guess I’ll start by writing 500 words every day. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
11. A leopard can’t/ doesn’t change its spots.
A person can’t change its innate character, especially bad.
Example: X: Do you think he’ll stop copying after being caught and penalized? Y: I don’t think so. A leopard can’t change its spots.
12. All good things come to an end.
Good experiences eventually come to an end.
Example: I was so sad to graduate from college and separate from my friends, but I’ve to realize that all good things come to an end.
13. All’s well that ends well.
As long as the outcome is good, problems on the way don’t matter.
Example: I’m glad you finally got here, even though your car had a flat tire on the way. Oh well, all’s well that ends well.
14. All that glitters is not gold.
Things that look good outwardly may not be as valuable or good.
Example: X: I want to be a movie star when I grow up. Y: Film industry looks good from the distance, but it has its own problems. Remember, all that glitters is not gold.
15. All’s fair in love and war.
One can break the rules of fair play under extenuating circumstances.
Example: X: How can you pitch my idea to the boss to look good? Y: Come on, all is fair in love and war.
16. Always put your best foot forward.
Try as hard as you can or give your best.
Example: You need to put your best foot forward in the interview if you want to land that job.
17. Among the blind the one-eyed man is king.
An incapable person can gain powerful position if others in the fray are even more incapable.
Example: Despite his obvious lack of exposure and skills, he became head of the department because he is one-eyed among the blind.
18. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Eating an apple a day will keep you healthy.
Example: Switch from chips to apples for your snack. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
19. An empty vessel makes much noise.
Foolish or stupid people are the most talkative.
Example: The spokesperson of the ruling political party yesterday was shouting at the top of his voice on a TV debate, trying to defend the indefensible. Empty vessel makes much noise.
20. An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.
If you’ve nothing to do, you’ll likely think of mischief.
Example: The kids should be kept busy during the summer break. Otherwise, you know an idle brain is devil’s workshop.
21. An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.
A little precaution before a crisis hits is better than lot of firefighting afterwards.
Example: Get the vaccination on priority. An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.
22. A picture is worth a thousand words.
It is easier to show or explain something through a picture than through words.
Example: A picture is worth a thousand words. It is easier to learn biology through pictures than through reams of text.
23. Appearances can be deceptive.
Outward appearance may not be what you believe them to be.
Example: X: He was well-mannered, suave, and good to talk to, but he turned out to be a cheater. Y: Well, appearances can be deceptive.
24. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
A person who is always changing jobs and places has the advantage of less responsibilities, but also the disadvantage of no fixed place to live.
Example: He was a bit of rolling stone before he got the job and settled down.
25. A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is for.
Get out of your comfort zone to grow and fulfill your potential.
Example: I think your fears are unfounded. You should travel to Italy for the Model UN. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot. Remember, a ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is for.
26. A stitch in time saves nine.
It’s better to deal with problems immediately rather than wait by when they worsen and become much bigger.
Example: Because we anticipated and responded to the possible change in Facebook algorithm, the referral traffic to our website dropped much less than what happened to some of our competitors. A stitch in time saves nine.
27. As you sow, so you shall reap.
Your actions – good or bad – determine what you get.
Example: You’ve got entangled in few cases of fraud. That’s a result of your illegal get-rich-quick methods. You should have known as you sow, so you shall reap.
28. A thing begun is half done.
A good beginning makes it easier to accomplish the rest of the project.
Example: He has already won first set in the match. I think he is on course to take this match. Well begun is half done, after all.
29. Barking dogs seldom bite.
People who appear threatening rarely do harm.
Example: X: I’m really scared to report delay in the project to the boss. His temper is so over the top. Y: I don’t think you should worry too much about it. Barking dogs seldom bite.
30. Be slow in choosing, but slower in changing.
Choose things or people after proper diligence, but once you choose, stick for long.
Example: Don’t be hasty in picking friends, but once you make friends with someone, don’t change him/ her fast. You should be slow in choosing, but slower in changing.
31. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
What may seem beautiful to one person may not seem to another.
Example: You may not like the curves of my new car, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
32. Beauty is only skin deep.
A person’s character, intellect, and other inner qualities are more important than his/ her physical beauty.
Example: That gorgeous actress behaved so rudely with the driver – beauty is skin deep, after all.
33. Beggars can’t be choosers.
People who depend on the generosity of others can’t pick & choose things as per their liking. They’ve to accept what is given to them.
Example: X: I borrowed this jacket from my friend, but it’s not one of his nice ones. Y: Well, but, beggars can’t be choosers.
34. Best things in life are free.
The most valuable things are often free.
Example: I feel so rejuvenated in clean air, sparkling water, and beautiful nature of the mountains. Often times, the best things in life are free.
35. Better late than never.
It is better to get something (you desire) late than get it never.
Example: I’m sorry I’m late to the party, but better late than never, right?
36. Better to be poor and healthy rather than rich and sick.
Good health is more important than money.
Example: The pharma tycoon has been in and out of hospital for the last two months because of kidney ailments. It’s better to be poor and healthy than rich and sick.
37. Better to wear out than to rust out.
It is better to remain active than to be idle (used mainly for old people)
Example: X: Seeing your age, I wouldn’t recommend you to work so hard. Y: It’s better to wear out than to rust out.
38. Blood is thicker than water.
Relationships with family (or blood relatives) is stronger than other relationships.
Example: My friends invited me for the picnic on Sunday, but I have to go to my cousin’s birthday instead. Blood is thicker than water, isn’t it?
39. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Cleanliness is a sign of goodness, a great virtue.
Example: Keep yourself clean, after all cleanliness is next to Godliness.
40. Clothes do not make the man.
A person’s character can’t be judged by his/ her clothing and outward appearance.
Example: X: I can’t believe he has been charged for insider trading. He always seemed so professional and impeccable. Y: Well, clothes don’t make the man.
41. Cowards die many times before their deaths.
Cowards suffer the feared effects of death many times over in their lives.
Example: X: He is constantly worried about the security of his job, and I don’t think he’ll pursue his true interests. Y: He exemplifies the saying ‘cowards die many times before their deaths’.
42. Cross the stream where it is shallowest.
To do things in the easiest possible way.
Example: Let’s just cross the stream where it is shallowest and find a spot that you can pull right in to—don’t worry about parallel parking.
43. Curiosity killed the cat.
Enquiring into others’ work can be dangerous. One should mind own business.
Example: I know curiosity killed the cat, but I can’t stop the investigation until I know where the donations are really going.
44. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.
The consequences of doing wrong always catch up with the wrongdoer.
Example: Politicians can fool some people some of the time, but in the end, chickens come home to roost.
45. Discretion is the better part of valor.
It is wise to be careful and not show unnecessary bravery.
Example: Son: Can I go hand gliding with my friends? Father: No. Son: But they’ll say I’m a chicken if I don’t go! Father: Discretion is the better part of valor, and I’d rather have them call you chicken than risk your life.
46. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Don’t take more responsibility than you can handle.
Example: I bit off more than I can chew when I said ‘yes’ to my boss for another project.
47. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Don’t act badly toward the person who has helped you or from whom you derive some benefits, for you may lose those benefits in future.
Example: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you by talking ill of your mentor for such a small thing. If he distances himself from you or talk bad about you, it can hurt you bad.
48. Don’t blow your own trumpet.
You should avoid proudly talking of your achievements and success in front of others.
Example: Don’t blow your own trumpet by talking of who your clients are and how much money you make every month.
49. Don’t cast pearls before swine.
Don’t offer something valuable to someone who doesn’t value it.
Example: To serve them French cuisine is like casting pearls before swine.
50. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Don’t make plans based on future events that may not happen at all.
Example: X: I’ve to prepare for my campaign. Y: But you haven’t been nominated yet. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
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