Every culture has its proverbs, bits of folk wisdom helpful in times of sorrow or joy, fear or hope, frustration or epiphany. In 1997, Yiddishist Fred Kogos put together a collection of proverbs in a book titled “The Dictionary of Popular Yiddish Words, Phrases and Proverbs” (Carol Publishing Group).
What follows are a few selections from Kogos’s masterpiece.
A faynt darf men zikh koyfn, sonim krigt men umzist.
You may have to buy a friend, but enemies come free.
A gast iz vi regn: Az er doyert tsu lang vert er a last.
A guest is like rain: If he stays too long he becomes a pest.
A dank ken men nit in keshene leygn.
You can’t put a “thank you” in your pocket.
A farshporer iz beser vi a fardiner.
One who saves is better than one who earns.
A gutn vet der shenk nit kalye makhn; un a shlekhtn vet der beys-hamedresh nit farikhtn.
A good man will not be corrupted by the taverns; and a bad man cannot be reformed by the synagogue.
A kluger farshteyt fun eyn vort tsvey.
A wise man hears one word and understands two.
A ligner darf hobn a gutn zikorn.
A liar needs to have a good memory.
A ligner redt zikh zayne lign azoy lang eyn biz er gleybt zey aleyn.
A liar tells his own story so many times that he gets to believe it himself.
A mol iz der refue erger fun der make.
Sometimes the remedy is worse than the ailment.
A sakh mentshn zeyen, nor veynik fun zey farshteyen.
Many people see, but few understand.
A vaybele iz a taybele un a tayvele.
A wife is a dove and a devil.