History of Literature


"Netherlandish Proverbs"


Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder





Netherlandish Proverbs (by Pieter Bruegel the Elder)


Netherlandish Proverbs





14 Leave at least one egg in the nest (to keep a "nest egg"; "Save something for a rainy day").
15 He has toothache behind his ears (possibly: to fool others by malingering).
16 a) He is pissing against the moon (to try to do the impossible; 'To bark against the moon" or 'To piss against the wind").
b) He has pissed against the moon (his enterprise has failed).
17 There is a hole in his roof.
18 An old roof needs a lot of patching up.
19 The roof has laths (there are eavesdroppers).
20 There hangs the pot (in the topsy-turvy world the chamber pot instead of the jug serves as an inn sign).
21 To shave the fool without lather (to make a fool of someone; "To take someone for a ride").
22 It is growing out of the window (it cannot be kept secret; 'Truth will out").
23 Two fools under one hood ("Folly loves company").
24 a) To shoot a second bolt to find the first (foolish, misdirected perseverance).
b) To shoot all one's bolts (to use all one's ammunition at once is unwise because there is none left when really needed).
82 He plays on the pillory (having been put to shame, one should not attract attention to oneself; "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones"; also, to make an unjustified presumption).
105 a) He is running as if his backside were on fire (he finds himself in great distress).
b) He who eats fire, shits sparks (whoever undertakes a dangerous venture should not be surprised at its outcome).
106 a) Where the gate is open, the pigs will run into the corn (everything is upside down when there is no supervision).
b) Where the corn decreases, the pig increases (in weight) ("One man's loss is another man's gain").




38 Armed to the teeth.
40 The hen-feeler ("To count one's chickens before they are hatched").
43 He speaks with two mouths (two-faced, deceitful; "To speak out of both sides of one's mouth").
44 One shears sheep, the other pigs (one has the advantage, the other the disadvantage; or, one lives in luxury, the other in need; "rich man, poor man").
45 Great cry and little wool ("Much ado about nothing").
47 Patient as a lamb.
48 a) One winds on the distaff what the other spins (to spread malicious gossip).
b) Watch out that a black dog does not come in between (things could go wrong; or, where two women are together, a barking dog is not needed).
49 He carries the day out in baskets (he wastes his time; "To set forth the sun with a candle").
50 To hold a candle to the Devil (to make friends in all quarters and to flatter everyone; to ingratiate oneself indiscriminately).
51 He confesses to the Devil (to give away secrets to one's enemy).
57 He fills the well after the calf has drowned (measure taken only when an accident has occurred).
63 She puts the blue mantle on her husband (she deceives him; "To place horns on his head").




52 An ear-blower (a tattle-tale or gossip; "To fan rumours").
69 a) He catches fish with his bare hands (this shrewd fellow profits from the work of others by taking fish out of the nets which they have cast), b) To throw a smelt to catch a cod (same meaning as 28a).
83 He falls from the ox onto the ass (to make a bad deal; to fall on hard times).
84 One beggar pities the other standing in front of the door.
85 Anyone can see through an oak plank if there is a hole in it.
86 a) He wipes his arse on the door (to make light of everything).
b) He goes around shouldering a burden.
87 He kisses the (door) ring (insincere, exaggerated respect).
88 He fishes behind the net (to miss an opportunity, wasted effort).
89 Big fish eat little fish.
91 He throws his money into the water (to squander money; 'To throw one's money out of the window"; "Money down the drain").
92 They both shit through one hole (inseparable friends).
93 It hangs like a privy over a ditch (a clear-cut matter).
94 He wants to kill two flies with one stroke (however, none will be caught; excessive ambition will be punished).
95 She gazes at the stork (she wastes her time).
96 To recognize a bird by its feathers
97 He hangs his cloak according to the wind (he adapts his viewpoint to conform to the circumstance at hand; "He trims his sails to the wind"; "He swims with the tide").
98 He tosses feathers in the wind (all his efforts are for nothing; to work unsystematically).
107 He does not care whose house is on fire as long as he can warm himself at the blaze (he seizes every opportunity to further his advantage).
108 A wall with cracks will soon collapse.
113 He drags the block (a deceived suitor; to slave away at a senseless task).




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