Category: SPD (Page 1 of 2)

SPD: The Devil Knows because he is Old.

Today’s Spanish-language proverbs is one of my favorites:

El diablo sabe por diablo, pero más sabe por viejo.

“The devil knows because he is the devil, but he knows more because he’s old”.

This proverb is a variation of the old Spanish proverb: “Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo“: “The devil knows more for being old than for being the devil”.  I like the first one more, though.

I’ve grown fonder and fonder of this proverb which extolls the knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, precisely as I get older and realize just how true it is.  The past is really the best predictor of the future – which is why knowing history is so important -, and nothing can quite teach you as much about life as living.



SPD: Don’t cry: don’t suck!

The Spanish-language Proverb of the day is:

El que no llora, no mama

Literally, “he who doesn’t cry, doesn’t (get to) suckle”

It’s the equivalent of the English language proverb: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, but it’s much more blunt. It means: you have to ask for what you want, insistently.

This proverb also comes from my homeland of Argentina, but it has a different origin than yesterday’s: a tango. While most Americans know tango as the music behind an exquisitely passionate dance, tango’s real power is in its lyrics. Classic tangos explores the themes of nostalgia and regret like no other music (even country music) and they are disarming in their honesty and realism.

Tango music is said to have developed in the whorehouses around Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, many tangos explore the topic of the “lost woman”. It quickly made it to the barrios (aka “arravales”), and became the tool to express the broken dreams and disenchantments of the poor. Tangos make extensive use of “lunfardo“, a dialect that originated among the criminal element in immigrant groups, but soon made its way into the barrios as well.

The proverb above comes from the tango “Cambalache“. Cambalaches are basically thrift stores.  The tango speaks about how tough, unfair and corrupt life is in the 20th century.  It’s been censored repeatedly in Argentina, but it’s still one of the most popular and well known tangos.

SPD: One of Martin Fierro’s Best!

My husband mentioned that I should include some Argentinian proverbs.  The ones I can think of come from our national book, the “Martín Fierro“, written by José Hernández.  Martin Fierro is a novel in verse, detailing the life of the gaucho with that name during the 19th century, told mostly in his own words . It’s written in gaucho language, so even Argentinians need a dictionary to read it. The most famous stanza from it is one that my parents quoted to me all the time when I was growing up. But these are very wise words that go beyond a family.

Los hermanos sean unidos,
ésa es la ley primera,
porque si entre ellos se pelean,
los devoran los de afuera.

In the original:

Los hermanos sean unidos,
Porque ésa es la ley primera.
Tengan unión verdadera
En cualquier tiempo que sea-
Porque si entre ellos pelean
Los devoran los de ajuera.

In translation:

Siblings (or brothers) be united,
this is the first of laws,
because if the fight among themselves,
they are devoured by outsiders

SPD: Not quite the blind leading the blind

The Spanish proverb of the day is:

“En el país de los ciegos, el tuerto es el rey”.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”.

This ancient dictum came to us via Eramus’ Adagia. Originally written in Latin (“in regione caecorum rex est luscus”), it’s been translated and adopted into many other languages, including English. However, I’ve never heard anyone actually say this proverb in English, while in Spanish people say it all the time.

It means that when you are surrounded by people who are incompetent, you only need to have a smidget of competency to shine. This refrain invariably comes to mind when I attend a City Council meeting.

And, indeed, it may be also help explain the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope.

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