Worldly Wise
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Proverbs from around the world:

  • Choose your neighbor before your house and your companion before the road. (Arabic)
  • Forgiving the unrepentant is like making pictures on water. (Japanese)
  • God gives the grain, but we must make the furrow. (Bohemian)
  • There are two good men: one dead, the other unborn. (Chinese)
  • Give a loan and buy a quarrel. (Indian)
  • Law is a flag, and gold is the wind that makes it wave. (Russian)
  • Doubt is the key of knowledge. (Persian)
  • Death does not recognize strength. (African)
  • If the beginning is good, the end must be perfect. (Burmese)
  • Hunger increases the understanding. (Lithuanian)
  • Haste is the mother of imperfection. (Brazilian)
  • True happiness consists in making happy. (Hindi)
  • Experience is a precious gift, only given a man when his hair is gone. (Turkish)

(From The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs, second edition, 1983.)


Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. Everything unknown is assumed to be grand.” — Tacitus

“As a rule, what is out of sight disturbs men’s minds more seriously than what they see.” — Julius Caesar

“Ignorance is the parent of fear.” — Herman Melville

Clergymen and Chickens

Why, let me ask, should a hen lay an egg which egg can become a chicken in about three weeks and a full-grown hen in less than a twelvemonth, while a clergyman and his wife lay no eggs but give birth to a baby which will take three-and-twenty years before it can become another clergyman? Why should not chickens be born and clergymen be laid and hatched? Or why, at any rate, should not the clergyman be born full grown and in Holy Orders, not to say already beneficed? The present arrangement is not convenient, it is not cheap, it is not free from danger, it is not only not perfect but is so much the reverse that we could hardly find words to express our sense of its awkwardness if we could look upon it with new eyes, or as the cuckoo perhaps observes it.

— Samuel Butler, “On Memory as a Key to the Phenomena of Heredity,” Working Men’s College, London, Dec. 2, 1882

Making Cases,_Leonardo_da_-_Crossbow_sketch_-_1500.jpg

Testimony is like an arrow shot from a longbow; the force of it depends on the strength of the hand that draws it.

Argument is like an arrow from a crossbow, which has equal force though shot by a child.

— Robert Boyle, paraphrased by Samuel Johnson


“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” — J.M. Barrie


“Many a long dispute among divines may be thus abridged: It is so; it is not so; it is so; it is not so.” — Ben Franklin

Worldly Wise

Proverbs from around the world:

  • If two people tell you you are blind, shut one eye. (Georgia)
  • Those who have free seats at a play hiss first. (China)
  • It is in sugar that you see the dead ant. (Malaysia)
  • Seven days is the length of a guest’s life. (Myanmar)
  • Silence is a fence round wisdom. (Germany)
  • Good things sell themselves; bad things have to be advertised. (Ethiopia)
  • Where there is most mind there is least money. (Latin)
  • Better a free meal of acorns than a honey feast on trust. (Wales)
  • Only an owl knows the worth of an owl. (India)
  • Good luck is the guardian of the stupid. (Sweden)
  • At birth we cry — at death we see why. (Bulgaria)
  • Errands are small on a spring day. (Iceland)
  • The nail suffers as much as the hole. (Netherlands)
  • The higher the castle the nearer to the lightning. (Russia)
  • There never was a five-pound note but there was a ten-pound road for it. (Scotland)
  • A contented mind is a continual feast. (England)

(From David Crystal, As They Say in Zanzibar, 2006.)


Salman Rushdie suggested that if Robert Ludlum had written Hamlet it would be called The Elsinore Vacillation.

Larry Rosenbaum observed that a gigolo is a million million billion piccolos.

The Greek god of theatrical criticism was named Pan.

Most pygmy hippos in American zoos are descended from William Johnson Hippopotamus, a pet given to Calvin Coolidge.


Illinois considers Pluto a planet.

“It is as if children know instinctively that anything wholly solemn, without a smile behind it, is only half alive.” — Iona and Peter Opie, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, 1959