One Who Can’t Dance Blames the Floor (and Other Useful Proverbs)

Idiomatic expressions are a time-honored way of conveying ideas and making them memorable. In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath site proverbs as among the most effective and enduring ways to impart knowledge.  It’s safe to say that every culture uses them.

So, out of curiosity, I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind sharing a few Bengali proverbs with me.  We supplemented his list with answers quelled from other Indian ex-pats, and the result was quite impressive.

The following are some of my favorites. I’ve compiled the list in order of ease of understanding. The last ones are a little cryptic, so see if you can figure out their meanings. I know you can!

Feel free to use them at parties. Weave them casually into conversation –or when you’re uncomfortable and don’t know what to say.  Your friends will love it.

The dogs will bark but the caravan will continue (People may criticize us, but we will continue unaffected.).

One who can’t dance blames the floor.

Only a mother names her blind child, “Padmalocan” (lotus eyes).

It is not wise to live in water and be the enemy of the crocodile.

There is no nut when you have teeth, and no teeth when you have a nut.

What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger? (Throwing pearls before swine)

One suffering from jaundice sees the whole world as yellow.

You can’t take the curl out of a dog’s tail (You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.).

A known brahmin doesn’t need a thread to identify him.

An ox’s wound is not painful to a crow (One person’s pain can’t be known by another.).

No matter how long a stone is immersed in water, it will not become soft.

She was looking for worms and discovered snakes.

The string used to tie the offering flowers also reached heaven (By association with elevated people, one also becomes elevated.).

Now, for advanced students: Use the following with extra caution, in times when you really need to leave ’em speechless. Like the above axioms, they are best uttered with a tiny bit of pretension and following a phrase like, “Well, you know…”

The jackfruit is in the tree, and you are already oiling your mustache (You are counting your chickens before they’ve hatched).

The wet cow dung is laughing at the dry cow dung (Youth is laughing at the elderly, unaware that they will one day be old, too.).

Bugs infesting the wheat get ground along with it (One shares the fate of those with whom he associates.).

His thumb has swollen into a banana tree (He has become arrogant.).

Readers, please feel free to share your own favorite proverbs, from America or elsewhere. The beauty is that you can even make them up, as with the following two examples:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a grande cappucino.

All internet and no fresh air makes Jack a little glazed.

Now, you try! You might be the only commenter. And you know what they say,

The last one remaining in a ruined village becomes the village head.

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6 Responses to One Who Can’t Dance Blames the Floor (and Other Useful Proverbs)

  1. Havi Brooks says:

    The jackfruit is in the tree, and you are already oiling your mustache = my new favorite thing to say in the entire world.


  2. Just Beth says:

    Havi has pwned the village, sounds like a good new proverb to me!

    • Dasi says:

      I like it, Beth! It sounds a little like, “Elvis has left the building” (You did mean owned, right? Or was that, Havi has pawned the village? Because you can be sure we villagers would put on a giant bake sale before that could happen. :)).

  3. Just Beth says:

    Yup, pwned is the same as owned. It seems to be a deliberate misspelling since I’ve seen it frequently.

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