Friday, December 10, 2010

English proverbs

  • Bad news travels fast.
  • A bad penny always turns up.
    • Meaning: Your mistakes will come back to haunt you. Or Bad people will always return.
  • A bad settlement is better than a good lawsuit.
  • A bad workman blames his tools.
    • George Herbert reports early English variants in Jacula Prudentum; or, Outlandish Proverbs, Sentences, Etc. (1640):
    • Compare the older French proverb:
    • Galen explains clearly, if less succinctly, in De Causis Procatarcticis (2nd c. A.D.), VI. 63–65:
      • They blame their tools: why did the carpenter make the bed so badly, if he was any good? He will reply: "Because I used a poor axe and a thick gimlet, because I did not have a rule, I lost my hammer, and the hatchet was blunt", and other things of this kind. And the scribe, asked why he wrote so badly, will say that the paper was rough, the ink too fluid, the pen blunt, that he did not have a smoother, so that he could not write any better. Once again, this man holds his material responsible, and blames his tools as well, in mentioning the pen and smoother. And who does not know that artisans make themselves responsible for the deficiencies in their work too, when they cannot pin the blame on material and tools?
  • The ball is in your court.
    • Meaning: It's up to you to decide.
  • Barking dogs seldom bite.
    • Meaning: People who are busy complaining rarely take more concrete hostile action.
    • Alternate meaning: Those who cast threats will seldom follow through with them
  • Barking up the wrong tree.
  • Be careful before every step.
  • Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
  • A bean in liberty is better than a comfit in prison.
  • Before criticizing a man, walk a mile in his shoes.
    • Meaning: One should not criticize a person without understanding their situation.
  • Beggars can't be choosers.
    • Meaning: Those who are in need of help can't afford to be too demanding.
  • Beginning is half done.
    • Quoted by Dr. Robert Schuller, West Coast clergyman.
  • The belly has no ears.
    • This Proverb intimates, that there is no arguing the Matter with Hunger,
      the Mother of Impatience and Anger.
      - Divers Proverbs, Nathan Bailey, 1721 [2]
    • I don't argue with the body Jerry. It's an argument you can't win. - Kramer
  • A bellyful is one of meat, drink, or sorrow.
  • A bellyful of food is a good one.
  • The best is yet to come.
  • The best of friends need not speak face to face.
  • The best things come in small packages.
  • The best things in life are free.
  • Better is the enemy of good.
  • Better late than never.
    • Meaning: It's better to make an effort to keep an appointment than to give up altogether when you discover you will be late.
  • Better safe than sorry.
    • Meaning: It is better to take precautions when it's possible that something can go amiss than to regret doing nothing later if something should indeed go wrong.
  • Better the devil you know (than the one you don't).
  • Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
  • Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
    • Variant: Better to remain silent and thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. (often attributed to Abraham Lincoln but taken from Solomon's Proverbs)
  • Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
  • Beware of the Bear when he tucks in his shirt.
  • Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves. (Matthew; bible quote)
  • A big tree attracts the woodsman's axe.
    • Meaning: Great people will attract great criticism.
    • Possible interpretation: The rich make good targets for thieves and burglars.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
    • John Bunyan cites this traditional proverb in The Pilgrim's Progress, (1678):
      • So are the men of this world: They must have all their good things now; they cannot stay till the next year, that is, until the next world, for their portion of good. That proverb, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," is of more authority with them than are all the divine testimonies of the good of the world to come.
  • Birds of a feather flock together.
    • Variant: Birds of the same feather flock together.
      • Meaning: People who are similar to one another tend to stay together.
  • Bitter pills may have blessed effects.
    • Meaning: Things that seem hard to take or handle at first may have positive and beneficial outcomes.
  • Blood is thicker than water.
    • Meaning: Bonds between family members are stronger than other relationships.
  • Blood will out.
    • Meaning: A person's ancestry or upbringing will eventually show.
  • Bloom where you are planted.
    • Meaning: Excel and flourish where you grow up, or where you fit in; be good at what you do.
  • A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword.
    • Robert Burton cites this traditional proverb in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621):
      • It is an old saying, "A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword:" and many men are as much galled with a calumny, a scurrilous and bitter jest, a libel, a pasquil, satire, apologue, epigram, stage-play or the like, as with any misfortune whatsoever.
        • Part I, Section II, Member IV, Subsection IV
    • Compare: "The pen is mightier than the sword."
    • Contrast: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."
  • Born with a silver spoon in his/her mouth.
    • Meaning: Born in a rich family.
  • Boys will be boys.
    • Meaning: Boys are traditionally expected to misbehave, while girls are not.
  • Brag is a good Dog, but Holdfast is a better
    • This Proverb is a Taunt upon Braggadoccio's, who talk big, boast, and rattle:
      It is also a Memento for such who make plentiful promises to do well for the
      future but are suspected to want Constancy and Resolution to make
      them good.
      - Divers Proverbs, Nathan Bailey, 1721 [3]
  • Brain is better than brawn.
  • Bread is the stuff of life.
  • Break the Law as the Law should be beaten.
  • A burnt child dreads the fire.
    • Chinese Version: One bitten by a snake for a snap dreads a rope for a decade.一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井绳
    • Indian Version: The one burnt by hot milk drinks even cold buttermilk with precaution. Transliteration: Doodh ka jala chhanchh ko bhi phoonk phoonk ke peeta hai.
    • Meaning: Similar to "Once bitten, twice shy"
    • This Proverb intimates, That it is natural for all living Creatures, whether rational or irrational,
      to consult their own Security, and Self-Preservation; and whether they act by Instinct or Reason, it still
      tends to some care of avoiding those things that have already done them an Injury.
      - Divers Proverbs, Nathan Bailey, 1721 [4]
  • Buy the best and you only cry once.

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