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January 06, 2010


Ivy Reisner

It was silly season in Japanese class and we were learning the "but" use of "ga."
Hon o yomitai desu ga, mada kanji o yomemasen (I want to read this book, but I can't read kanji yet). That sort of thing.

One student baffled the teacher with
Suki o ikitai desu ga ashi ga nai
(I want to go skiing, but I have no legs). She wasn't sure if he were being literal (the class had gotten that silly) or figurative. The phrase "ashi ga nai" means literally "I have no legs" but figuratively "I have no car."

Favorite expressions from Japanese: "ishi no ue ni san nen." It takes three years of sitting on a stone for it to become warm. Or: persistence pays.

Mikka bouku -- a three-day monk, or someone who gives up after things get hard.

Saru mo ki kara uchiru -- even monkeys fall from trees.

Deru kugi wa utareru -- the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. This isn't the same as the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It's advice towards fitting in.

David Price

Please do the same with French proverbs


I love that: "Who wouldn't prefer God's help to a gooey worm?"

Though they’re not really proverbs per se, I do love palindromes, which read the same forward as they do backward:

Was it a car or a cat I saw?
A man, a plan, a canal... Panama!
Madam, in Eden, I’m Adam.
Madam, I’m Adam.
Able was I, ere I saw Elba.
Some men interpret nine memos.

John Banther

Though Dutch doesn't sound poetic most of the time, I like this one:

Water naar zee dragen

"carrying water to the sea"
i.e. what you're doing is pointless

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true religion jeans

Favorite expressions from Japanese: "ishi no ue ni san nen." It takes three years of sitting on a stone for it to become warm." Or: persistence pays.

Judith Jimenez

Guatemala a Guatepeor. The prefix Guate refers to Guatemala, the Central American country.
"Desvestir a un santo para vestir a otro" ( undress a saint to dress another). This has, I think a historical background, the building of Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul Cathedral.
"Take from Peter to pay Paul" is the equivalent in English.

Norwegian Immigration Association

A lady sitting in church dropped her prayer book and said, "Antagelig smør siden ned." Translation: "Most likely buttered side down." This Norwegian expression scolds the daydreamer, or the distracted.


Here are two Russian proverbs that I have always liked a lot; one has an English equivalent and one doesn't. Pardon the Russian equivalents, it's hard to write without the proper alphabet.

In English we say, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." They say, "Volkoff boyatsa vles ne hadit," which means "If you're afraid of wolves, don't go in the woods."

"Kashoo smaslom ne esportish," which means "You can't spoil kasha with butter." (Ruin something good by putting something else good in it. Kasha is a hot cereal, like Cream of Wheat.)

Steve Leveen

Ah, what marvelous proverbs! And that Japanese "It takes three years of sitting on a stone for it to become warm." is mentioned twice. Lovely. I also like three-day monk, carrying water to the sea, and the new (to me) Spanish one. Makes me want more and more. Hey, does anyone know a good recent book? (Of course we recommend our Gnomologia.) Many thanks to all.

Elizabeth V. Kane

Dear Steve,

I love reading your blogs as much as I love my Levenger purchases. Your blogs are always an invaluable wealth of knowledge.

Are you going to offer Gonomologia soon again? Although I purchased a number of books, I somehow never ordered it. I would love to include Gnomologia in my library.

A lover of words and languages, I am particularly enlightened by, and impressed with your blog "Language learning Magic Part III: Proverbs."
Its like an "In Other Words" in proverb form. I hope that analogy doesn't sound silly.

I would greatly appreciate knowing whether Gnomologia will be made available again.

Thank you for your time.


Elizabeth V. Kane

Steve Leveen

Dear Elizabeth,

Good news! Our Gnomologia book is still available from our stores. If you'd like to call our staff at either our Boston location (617-536-3434) or Tysons Corner (703-288-9097), they'll be happy to get a copy into your hands. Thanks for checking in, and for your kind words about the blog.

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