35 Work Proverbs
September 2, 2012 | Lists
With Labor Day upon us, it’s an appropriate time to think about the world of work, particularly how pleasant it would be to forever put a few time zones between oneself and a tax return. Labor Day may be all about celebrating the contributions workers have made to society, but, let’s face it, they only made those contributions because not doing so would have meant home dentistry for the kids, no barbecues in the summer and having to roll one’s own cigarettes. The only people who really want to work are those who have had their spirits irrecoverably broken, are insane, or, possibly have some kind of dream gig like getting paid cash to pick out groupies for rock stars at concerts.
Also worth considering is how little worthwhile work is out there and how the songs about work will never be as good as they was in the heyday of coal mining – “I’m A Fashion Mag Intern With Smoke Breaks” would not have nearly the impact of “Sprinkle Coal Dust on My Grave” or “West Virginia Mine Disaster”, for example. (In a galling side note: Walmart released a commercial jingle with a chorus that went, “Working on the rollbacks, prices going down down…” [Picture a box car rolling back over the foot of the ad agency hack who came up with this while he or she chokes on silica.]
There is little hope of this situation improving any time soon. There are calls to extend the retirement age to 67 and even beyond. And given the transient nature of work these days and how most companies don’t want to offer benefits beyond a nice card and flowers if you’re run over by the delivery truck, it’s unlikely that you’ll even be presented with a gold watch upon retirement. (That always seemed like a cruel tradition – the equivalent of running up to the old fellow and going “tick-tock, tick-tock” in his ear. The man knows time is winding down, for chrissake).
Proverbs express cold hard truths based on common sense and experience, but are a bit more epigrammatic than, “Don’t fry bacon topless [or bottomless, really, nobody needs to picture that]. Since work takes up all the hours of our day that we’re not wasting through sleep and enjoyment, it comes as no surprise that wise men and women with long lunch breaks and/or lax supervisors have come up with dozens of proverbs about work. If you’re at work, pretend the unions are still a viable force in today’s marketplace and take an unscheduled break as we present 35 Work Proverbs from around the world.
1. If you can’t ride two horses at once, you shouldn’t be in the circus.
(Presumably said by someone with a very narrow perspective on the various employment opportunities available at the circus. Still appropriate for our purposes as labor standards at circuses can be comparable to those of another profession that requires a lot of travel: container ship human smuggling rings)
2. A bad workman always blames his tools.
(And a tool frequently blames his workers. Don’t fink).
3. Great talkers are little doers.
(Awkwardly phrased, perhaps. We could discuss this one for a while).
4. Labor warms, sloth harms (Dutch).
(Does this also rhyme in Dutch?)
5. He that labors is tempted by one devil, he that is idle by a thousand (Dutch).
(Variety: the spice of life).
6. He who gets a name for early rising can stay in bed until midday (Irish).
(Leave it to the Irish to coin a phrase we can get behind).
7. One does not tire of a profitable occupation (Irish).
(Because one hopes to get promoted into idleness).
8. Much water goes by the miller when he sleeps (Scottish).
(The miller should move to higher ground).
9. Good forecast makes work easy (Scottish).
(Provided your weatherman is reliable).
10. Work doesn’t scare him, but he could lay down near it and sleep (Finnish).
(Not quite sure what this means, but presumably this guy sleeps in his cubicle).
11. Poverty is no joy, although sometimes it makes you laugh (Finnish).
(So does insanity).
12. Don’t sell the fur until the bear has been shot (Swedish).
(Truer words have seldom been spoken, at least with respect to shooting bears)
13. A piece of bread in the pocket is worth more than a feather in the hat (Swedish).
This would work just as well if the bread and feather traded places.
14. A foul mouth must be provided with a strong back (Danish).
(And quick legs.)
15. The rich would have to eat money if the poor did not provide food (Russian)
(Currency would be a high-fiber diet)
16. When rubles fall from heaven there is no sack, when there is no sack rubles don’t fall from heaven (Russia).
(Hopefully when they do fall they don’t land in a lake.)
17. If you feel the need to work, take a nap, the need will pass (Russian).
(Practical wisdom we should have listened to before starting this blog.)
18. Former highwaymen make the best policemen (Hungarian).
Essentially saying that former criminals make the best cops and too many TV shows and films have been made on this theme for it not to be true.
19. He that is not a master of something, is a butcher of it (Hungarian).
20. He who works by himself does the work of three (Italian)
21. A rich man is either a scoundrel or an heir to a scoundrel (Spanish)
(Check out our list of the 10 Most Annoying Celebrity Heiresses)
22. If you want good service, serve yourself (Spanish)
23. He who is being carried does not know how far the town is (African)
(See earlier work proverb: A foul mouth must be provided with a strong back).
24. He who is afraid of doing too much always does too little (Africa).
(Best to play it safe).
25. The lazy man who goes to borrow a spade says “I hope I will not find one” (Madagascan).
(Know this feeling well. “But they were all out of spades! Let’s just not dig today while we figure this out.)
26. If you have to be a beggar, make sure you knock only at the largest gates (Arabic).
(And then don’t be surprised when security pummels you for your cheek).
27. A man profits more from the sight of an idiot than by the orations of the learned (Arabic).
(Not sure how this would work unless said idiot had a special gift for spotting change in the street.)
28. Making money selling dung is better than losing money selling musk (Egyptian).
(Surely there has to be some middle ground here.)
29. If you need a job to be done, be prepared to fall at the foot of a donkey (Indian).
(Can try that or — and this is just a suggestion — riding the donkey to the house of someone who can do the job).
30. One without worries can doze off in a marketplace (Indian).
(Though that person might wake up with worries after having been robbed of all possessions while asleep).
31. A person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the man doing it (Chinese).
(But the man who is doing it should break to rub it in the other guy’s face).
32. Never do anything standing that you can do sitting, or anything sitting that you can do lying down (Chinese).
(Might limit you in the bedroom, but in principle we embrace this).
33. Never trust the advice of a man in difficulty (Japanese).
(Unless it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you would be a fool to pass up).
34. If someone sweats for you, you change his shirt (Haitian).
(Seems only fair, though we’re going to need to ponder the logistics of this).
35. If work were good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor (Haitian).
(No more need be said).