Misnomers not maxims!!!


Not all proverbs convey words of wisdom. Some of them are complete nonsense and we should stop using them as references to our behaviour. Proverbs about women, weather and animals should be revisited and examined as to whether they actually impart any understanding. The ones about animals certainly give a wrong image about animals, teach the wrong lessons.

Lets take some of the more common ones”:

“Let sleeping dogs lie”: Dogs are the lightest sleepers in the world. You don’t need to let them lie – they will be awake long before you even get near them. But that doesn’t mean that as soon as they awake they are going to bite you.

“A barking dog seldom bites”: This depends on the circumstances. If he is barking to greet you, OK. If he is barking to keep you away, he might bite.

“A dog is valiant at his own door”: And everywhere else depending on what he is protecting.

“A cock is valiant on his own dunghill”: No animal stands on its own faeces voluntarily. A cock is one of the bravest creatures in the world and will go into battle to defend his honour and his family.

“Every dog has its day”: Unfortunately very few dogs or any other animals have their day- and most humans don’t either.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”: as a matter of fact you can teach a dog anything at any age. I adopt 9 year olds and in one week they learn their new names and new habits to adjust to the new place.

“To kill two birds with one stone”: Why do you want to kill any bird? And I doubt if a thrown stone would kill even one.

So many Hindi proverbs are gross and off the mark:

“What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger”: In fact monkeys have a really discerning palate.

“To play a snake charmer’s flute in front of a buffalo”: Probably means a waste of time but the buffalo, like a large number of animals, specially cattle , actually likes music. It is the snake that is totally deaf – and yet the snake charmer plays for him and thousands of people watch this nonsensical display.

“Come bullock and hit me” is a proverb which means asking for trouble. Why bullock? This poor castrated bull is the meekest of all animals. Subjected to whips and beatings, it never retaliates.

“A frustrated cat scratches the pillar” means misdirected anger. No cats scratch pillars out of anger. In fact they are the happiest when playing and scratching pillars and it is essential play for them along with keeping their nails sharp.

“With God on its side, even the donkey can be a wrestler”: Again idiotic. The donkey is always strong. Most of your houses are built by the bricks this poor animal carries.

“Turkeys, parrots, and hares don’t know what gratitude is”: They should be grateful for being caged or eaten ?

The worst one is “Ghar ki murgi dal barabar ”: The chicken dish at home is treated like lentils. It means that one takes one’s possessions for granted and those of other’s seem better. Why should a dead corpse of a chicken be treated as superior to the lentil? This phrase obviously originated during the Mughal period. It’s as bad as “If you have no bacon, you must be content with the cabbage. (You’ll probably live longer and healthier) or “Better a mouse in the pot than no meat at all” – Romanian. Yuck! 

In Italian “Let’s go where the dogs never bite” means “Let’s go to a safe place”: It should be removed. Most dogs never bite and no dog bites unless he is severely provoked. For that matter no animal bites voluntarily – not even a snake. The Italians have another one that needs to be removed: “Men have teeth like dogs”: if they don’t bite you today, they will bite you tomorrow. And this: “Who has nothing to do combs dogs”.

Here are some awful American ones:

“A hog in satin is still a hog” is another version of “A donkey laden with gold is still but a donkey” or “An ass burdened with books thinks himself a scholar”: I find donkeys sensitive, intelligent and very thoughtful – and I find most pigs beautiful. However I find satin disgusting and gold inelegant.

“A mischievous dog must be tied short”: which makes it certain that he will bite you one day. Have you never heard of love?

“A sheep that is no trouble to shear has little wool”: this explains the terrible shearing practices of sheep herders who make a sheep bleed when cutting her wool off.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”: why do you want a bird in your hand. A bird in the bush saves forests, the rain and the world. A bird in your hand simply dies.

“Don’t sell the bear’s skin before you have caught the bear”: only America with its children encouraged to kill the shambling, vegetarian bear would have this proverb.

“Even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he kept his mouth shut”: So now it’s the fishes fault? What about the millions caught in nets?

“He that lies with dogs comes up with fleas”: If the owner could not be bothered to remove them, what does that say about him.

“Don’t flog a dead horse”: Just a live one?

Here are some more that should be buried: “There are more ways to kill a dog than choking it with butter”. “There is a black sheep in every flock” ( what’s wrong with a black sheep?). “You never know the length of a snake until it is dead”

When the snake is in the house, one need not discuss the matter at length” –African. Just kill it? 

“It is not a fish until it is on the bank” – Irish.

“A pearl is worthless as long as it is still in its shell”: So no creature is valuable unless its dead and can be used?

“Throw a lucky man in the sea, and he will come up with a fish in his mouth” – Saudi Arabian. Even when he is drowning he will think of killing?

“The best way to eat the elephant standing in your path is to cut it up into little pieces” – African 

“Govern a family as you would cook a small fish — very gently” – Chinese . Cook the family? Why not? The Chinese eat everything.

“The dog wags his tail, not for you, but for your bread” -Portuguese. Dogs that are beaten and starved remain true to their owners as well.

“One hundred people can sit together peacefully, but two dogs in the same place will pick a fight”: Have you seen ten people sit together and not fight? I have 400 dogs in my shelter and they are fine together.  

“Without a shepherd, sheep are not a flock” -Russian: No animal needs humans. WiId sheep make their own flocks. 

“Show a dog a finger, and he wants the whole hand” -Yiddish . Only to lick and kiss. 

“Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow” -Italian. No wonder their nation is bankrupt. Why not just eat lentils and vegetables?

“A donkey always says thank you with a kick” -Kenyan . Not true. One of the gentlest of all animals.

“The fish comes to his senses after he gets into the net” -Turkish. So you are doing him a favour by catching him?

“Help a dog out of water, and it will splash water all over you” – Finnish: So leave it there?

The saddest of this bunch is unfortunately true “When one wants to get rid of their dog, any excuse is a good excuse” –Italian.

As someone who runs a shelter I see animals abandoned everyday with their owners giving the strangest of stories. The saying just means – the human is going to do what he wants and he will justify it any which way. Even using vicious proverbs!

Maneka Gandhi, politician, animal rights activist and environmentalist writes weekly column Heads & Tails for the Kashmir Observer.

To join her animal rights movement contactgandhim@nic.in

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