Comparative Proverbs, II

Continuing our erratic series of comparative proverbs, I was reminded the other day of the Tibetan saying that goes: “Don’t stare too hard at the yak that your father-in-law offers you”.


It immediately brings to mind the gift horse you aren’t supposed to look in the mouth, a saying which has an almost exact equivalent in Spanish (A caballo regalado, no le mires los dientes) which, actually, is more explanatory than the English version.


Scouring worldwide proverbs, one can also find the Chinese version, which translates roughly as: “When a tiger is a gift, its flaws are fewer than its stripes”. And I am indebted to Dr Abdullah Said Raweh of the Yemeni Linguistic Society for the saying, “If I lend you my dromedary, I know you won’t mind its lopsided hump”.


But my all-time favourite is a little-known saying from the Hausa people of west Africa. Hausa live mostly in what is now Niger, and “Hausa” is also the name of their language. They have obviously learned what “politically correct” means quite recently, and I am told that this proverb is now frowned upon but can still be heard occasionally at old-fashioned wedding ceremonies. The whole ceremony is a complicated ritual of poetry and dance, and includes this snappy fragment:


 “When you give me your daughter, and I say I prefer to see her at night,

It’s not so that I will see less of her, but rather, I prefer not to blinded by the light.”


At Zaragoza Twins, we are always grateful for our readers’ collaboration. If you know any other proverbs that match these, please send them in!





One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Natashya Vitkovskaya on September 12, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I was very interested and amused to read your Comparative Proverbs. I was unaware of the many parallels that your saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” has in different languages. You might be interested to add the following one, which has a tangential relationship to the ones you mention.

    In the Yupik language Naukanski (related to Inuit) spoken in Eastern Siberia, there is an expression which means literally, “To squeeze the blubber too firmly”. This is said when a person receives a gift he doesn’t really want. It is somewhat equivalent to “ To turn one’s nose up at something” and presumably refers to the situation in which a person realises that the baby seal he has been given is, in fact, not in very good condition.

    – Prof. Natashya Vitkovskaya, Khabarovsk, Russia.


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