Posts tagged ‘proverb’

April 4, 2011

Beggars – choosers

The saying goes like this: beggars can’t be choosers.

Beggars can't be choosers, pic:

This one is used in a situation where somebody asks for something and does not exactly get what he or she wants.  Instead he/she has to accept what they get, even if it is less than they expected or hoped for or it is substandard.

The phrase dates back to the middle ages.  back then – just like today I might say – there was no/little support for old age or in cases of sickness and many people depended on the charity of others to meet their basic needs.  These people where in no position to be choosy about what they got.

Here is a usage example for the phrase:

My parents gave me their old car for graduation.  I really wanted a new sportscar but beggars can’t be choosers.  Right.

The phrase is used occasionally and is appropriate in most circumstances.

March 18, 2011

Lucky in cards

I thought I had finally come up with an proverb that exists in German and for which there is no English equivalent.  But no such luck, it does exist, even though I had never heard of it before today when I searched online – hoping not to find it.

Lucky at cards, unlucky in love - certainly true for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, pic:

Anyway, the proverb is “lucky in cards, unlucky in love”.  The whole things doesn’t even make much sense.  I also did not find a satisfying explanation why it should be the case that one has to trade off love with card games (=money). One notion I read was that it is a well-known fact that some people seem to be very lucky in some respects but not in others.  So this would just state the obvious.

An interesting factoid is that in English the version “lucky in cards, unlucky in love” seems to be the one version used.  The opposite is sort of implied.  In the German version both variations exist equally, i.e. if you are playing cards and loosing badly a sympathetic person will say “unlucky in cards, lucky in love” to provide some comfort. Another difference, in German we don’t limit ourselves to cards – any kind of gambling is fair game, so to speak.

March 5, 2011

The road to hell …

…  is paved with good intentions.

This proverb dates back about a 1,000 years in one form and another and means that – although one might have good intentions – one might end up doing bad things – which, for Christians implies to end up in hell.  Or that our actions have bad results instead of the good ones we have hoped for.

The end of the road to hell, pic:

The idiom is also used as a rebuke for somebody who is complaining that he/she wanted to do the right thing but that the consequences were negative nevertheless.  I have also heard it used ironically, implying that whoever had the good intentions did not try hard enough, that intentions are good and nice but not enough to guarantee a positive outcome and more resolve and dedication is necessary.


“I really had planned on visiting you while you were in the hospital, honestly, I had the best intentions but it just never worked out.”

“Yeah, right – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

February 18, 2011

Blood and water

Today’s proverb is of German origin but is also used in the English language:  “Blood is thicker than water”.  The proverb is used to express the

I opted against a gory mixture of blood and water and for this scientific drawing, pic:

notion that the bonds between family members and relatives in generally are tighter then the bonds between unrelated people and in a pinch trump those.

Whether one agrees with this statement or not is a different question.  Looked at it from the perspective of evolution it certainly makes sense as your relatives carry some of the same genes you do.  The remoter the relatives the fewer genes one shares and at some point one probably crosses from “blood” to “water”.

Its one of those proverb that dates back to medieval times and has a long and colorful history – let’s not worry about it now.

An example:  “You are my friend but if it comes down to supporting you or my brother, I’ll support him – blood is thicker than water.”

January 13, 2011

The 800 lbs gorilla

Let’s start by talking about the size of real gorillas:  according to Enchanted Learning a fully grown male gorilla weighs about 400 lbs.  so by all standards a 800 lbs gorilla is an exceptionally large specimen.

An 800 lbs gorilla - dancing, pic: © Allegretto |

But then again, the proverbial 800 lbs gorilla isn’t really a gorilla, but a large, unstoppable, overbearing entity or organization that cannot be ignored – as hard as one might try.

A variation on the expression one sees quite often is “800 lbs gorilla in the room.”

Thephrase is often used to refer to a large player in an industry.  Here are some examples how the phrase can be used:

“Microsoft is the 800 lbs gorilla of the software industry”

Here is a headline: “Netflix: The chimp who took down the 800 lbs gorilla?”

and another: “Broadsoft: The 800 lbs call center gorilla.”

The phrase is commonly used and perfectly acceptable in a business environment.  It is generally used to refer to organizations rather than people (not very flattering) but it wouldn’t be impossible to use it for an individual who exerts as lot of influence, e.g. a meeting with mainly junior people – and the CEO.



December 28, 2010

A little bit of Mexico

I am in Mexico and so I have been looking for a Mexican proverb with an English translation and came up with this one:

Leopard not changing its spots!, pic: © Lori Martin |

“El que es perico, dondequiera es verde”.  In a direct translation that means “a parrot is green no matter where it is”.  The English equivalent is the following proverb:A leopard never changes its spots”, also possible” the tiger cannot change it’s stripes”

Basically that expresses the somewhat fatalistic attitude that people will never change.  It seems to be used mainly to express the idea that people won’t change for the better or make drastic adjustments to their habits and attitude, especially as they get older.

It is a fairly friendly and non offensive saying implying slight resignation mixed in with understanding for the fact that people tend to not change their basic nature.

Here are some examples:

Guy to his friend: “I want to climb Mount Everest, do you want to come with me?”

Friend: “You know that I don’t like risky adventures like that and never will – a leopard never changes his spots! So no, you’ll have to find somebody else!”

Girl to friend: “My fiance is very conservative, I wish he was a little more liberal.  Do you think I can change him?”

Friend: “Honey, a leopard never changes its spots!”

December 9, 2010

Clothes and people

I just read this proverb: “Clothes do not make the man”.

This blog was really just an excuse to post a picture of Daniel Craig in a tuxedo :-), pic:

In and it by itself this is not a very interesting proverb and its meaning is rather blatantly obvious: what you wear does not define you as a person.  If you don’t wear nice expensive clothes you can still be a good, honorable, kind person – and the other way around.

What I find more interesting about this is that it exists in its opposite form, e.g. in German “Kleider machen Leute”, literally: Clothes make people.  But also the English, at least back during Shakespeare’s times seem to think that what you wear is who you are – or at least appear to be.  As the proverb “clothes make the man” is featured in Hamlet and allegedly traces its roots back to the Romans.

So, without getting to deep and philosophical here, we can conclude that people across the world and centuries are of two minds about the importance of fancy clothing.  with the American’s taking the moral high-ground and the Germans being rather blatant about their preference for nice outfits.

I liked this quote, that  I read on the subject by some Henry Ward Beecher, 1813 – 1887, he was a Liberal US Congregational minster (whatever that is):  “Clothes and manners do not make man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance. ”  Well said, Henry.

December 5, 2010

Flying start

Cars off to a flying start, pic:

Getting off to a flying start is another way of saying that one had a very successful beginning.  It could be in business, sports, with school/studying or a hobby.

All sorts of things can be off to a flying start, for example people

Maddy was off to a flying start with her new job.

or sports teams:

“Bulls get off to a flying start” (actual head line, the Bulls are a men’s basketball team out of Buffalo)

or events:

“Today’s meeting got off to a flying start when the software team to us that they found and fixed the bug in the system.”


“Despite the bad economic situation Carly’s Cupcake store got off to a flying start.

The expression derives from a racing start in which the contestants are already in full motion when they pass the starting line.

December 3, 2010


An example of unsuccessfully reinvented wheels. Pic:

I am a lucky wife.  If we need, say, a shed for the garden tools we go to the hardware store and buy one and when my husband is overcome by the urge to cook dinner, he will generally stay pretty close to the letter of the recipe and curb his creativity, well then again, there was that story where he built his own computer …

What does this have to do with wheels and reinvention?  Here is what: “reinventing the wheels” means to create anew or duplicate a basic method or product (like the wheel or a recipe for beef stew) that somebody else has already invented and established – quite a while ago.

The whole process of wheel reinvention is an exercise in futility, a waste of money, time, energy, and also comes with the considerable risk of  “reinventing a square wheel” , which is a product that is inferior to the original (the time proven round wheel).

Reinventing the wheel can happen to the best of us, in our personal lives as well as at work.  Some people argue that a bit of reinventing the wheel is good, else we would all hobble down the freeway on wooden wheels, but generally speaking, the wheel that is there will do just fine.

December 1, 2010

Bang for the buck

This cupcake is serious bang for the bucks, pic: /

In the US you will hear the following expression: “get the most bang for your bucks.”

To understand this expression one must understand the slang use of the two nouns “bang” and “buck”.

Let’s start with bucks.  Bucks are money, dollars.  It is a frequently used casual expression for money in context like “David, could you lend me a couple of bucks for a coffee, I forgot my wallet in the office.”  It has become so common that it can be used in casual business conversation as well as shown in this example: “That new data center must have cost at least 3 million bucks!”

“Bang” has several meanings – some you want to stay clear off, so don’t use it by itself unless you are referring to loud noise (“did you hear that loud bang just now?  What was that?”) .  In this context it means something like “benefit”.

If we put it together we get: the most benefit for your money.

The expression is used in casual and business contexts.  Here are a couple examples:

Marketing VP: “As a small company we have little money to spend on marketing, that’s why we need to make sure to get the most bang for our bucks.”

Wife to husband while car shopping: “I think with the Toyota Camry we’ll get the most bang for our buck.”