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I do not know if all the proverbs created by the people of Turkey exist in Turkish spoken in other nations, but the proverbs of Turkish-speaking people exist in today's Turkish spoken in Turkey. In a paper read at the Third International Congress of Turcology held in Istanbul from September 24th to 29th, 1979, Dr. Cagatay Kacar, using Soviet sources, compared the proverbs of Turks of Turkey and the Turkish-speaking Western Turkestanians [Uzbeks] of Central Asia and demonstrated that both tongues contain hundreds of the same proverbs with the same implications.

The Crimean (Tatar) Turks also contributed heavily to the treasury of Turkish proverbs: "If you dip your nose into the water, your cheeks will also get wet" [A reference to greed]; "Do not chase the coward lest he become courageous"; "Let your neighbor be well off, for he will not ask for anything even though he will not give you anything"; "Let the foal of my neighbor win rather than the horse of a stranger"; "He who has dirty feet stains the carpet; he who has a dirty [foul] mouth stains the nation"; "He who loses his tongue [language] loses his self [nationality]."

The following proverbs are of Kazak origin: " If you do not know what to say, say what your elders said"; "He who talks without thinking dies without getting sick"; "The unqualified man desires to climb to the top [in the hierarchy]; the bad man desires to sit at the head of the table"; "He who advises a bear deserves to be beaten up" [A warning against teaching a bad man how to get ahead]; "The fool ages on his feet."

Azerbaijani Turks also contributed many proverbs to Turkish culture: "When it comes to chip in to buy the meat, he does not give a penny, but when it is time to eat, he grabs the biggest piece of it"; "What business does a dog have in the shop of the blacksmith?" [Said of one who gets involved in things he does not understand]; "Speak of the dog, but take the stick into your hand" [One must be prepared when one is about to deal with a potential aggressor]; "Ride your horse slowly if you want to reach your destination far away" [A warning against haste].

Brief aphorisms associated with anecdotes are another important source for Turkish proverbs. Here are a few example: "The frog saw how the horses were shod, so she also lifted up her foot" [One should know his own limitations and capacity and should not interfere in situations he does not know or understand]; "The hazelnut emerged from its shell and did not like the look of it" [Said of one who is ashamed of his origin or one who looks down on those who reared him]; "The mouse, though it could not squeeze into the hole, had a pumpkin tied to its tail" [A reference to a complication arising from an already difficult situation]; "They asked the wolf, 'Why is your neck so thick?' 'Because I do my own work myself,' he answered" [One must be oneself and not depend on others]; "The tortoise in its shell says, 'What a big place I live in' " [Those who are ignorant of the outside world believe in their own superiority].

Of course, the Nasraddin Hodja stories are the biggest and richest anecdotal source for Turkish proverbs. Nasraddin Hodja (1208-1284), the most important hero in Turkish folklore, the delightful and inimitable personification of Turkish humor and wit, left us many proverbs and idioms. You will read some of his anecdotes, associated with certain proverbs and idioms, in this book.

Many verses from known and anonymous Turkish poets have also passed from one generation to another as proverbs: "The eyes of the bat are hurt by the light” [He who does ill dislikes the truth], "The sheik's [holy man's] miracles are related by himself' [Said of one who does not appear to be as much of an expert or knowledgeable person as he pretends, or of whom further confirmation is needed before one believes him]. The poetic tradition continues to generate proverbs. Many euphemisms of the late Cenab Sahabettin, poet and writer, and verses of Talat Sait Halman, Turkey's former Minister of Culture, will become tomorrow's proverbs.

Islam inspired many proverbs in the Turkish language. The following maxims are either from chapters in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, or sayings (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad: "Where God is, there is everything"; "Shall the reward of good be aught but good?"; "If you do good, it is to yourself; and if you do evil, it is also to yourself'; "God increase the guidance of the already guided"; "God has no mercy for those who have no compassion for others"; "God exalts the humble and humiliates the proud"; "The house that receives no guests, never receives angels"; "Obedience to one's father is like obedience to God"; "To you your religion; and to me my religion"; "You do not practice what you know; why, then, do you seek what you do not know?"; "Envy consumes good deeds as fire consumes wood"; "Happy is he whose own faults prevent him from castigating the faults of others"; "The person who repents is like the one who has never sinned"; "Seek knowledge even in China"; "It is unlawful to withhold knowledge"; "The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of martyrs"; "Promising is a debt"; "A good word is a charity"; "Contentment is an inexhaustible treasure"; "True wealth is not abundance in property but a generous heart"; "Make things easy, not difficult, and bring joy, not hatred"; "Remain dean and your sustenance shall increase"; "Actions are valued by their consequences"; "Actions are valued by their intentions, and every man shall have but that which he intended"; "Earn and dine or else fast."


Perhaps because of their authors unfamiliarity with the history of Turkish proverbs, books published in English (and, I presume, in other Western languages as well) do not always give credit to Turkish proverbs' origin. Take "Poverty is a shirt of fire," which H.L. Mencken, an American writer and editor, quotes as an Armenian proverb. But Armenian sources admit it is a Turkish proverb.''' H.L. Mencken also quotes the proverb, "The guest is not welcome to a guest, but both are not to the host" as an Albanian proverb, though it is Turkish. The Turkish proverb "There is a devil in every berry of grape" is an English proverb according to Rosalind Fergusson. (Islam forbids drinking alcoholic beverages. Does not this prohibition make this proverb more suitable to Islam than to other religions, which sanction at least moderate drinking?) Rosalind Fergusson also quotes as English proverbs "Every sheep is hung by its own leg" and "He that cannot beat the ass, beats the saddle” but they are two of the 698 Turkish proverbs appended to Teshil (mentioned above).

These are not the only examples that show that proverbs of Turkish origin are misrepresented. Petros D. Baz, M.D., credits only two proverbs to Turkish origins: "God builds the nest of a blind bird," and "Rejoice not in another's sorrow." But his book contains many Turkish proverbs which first appeared in Diwan-i Lugat-it Turk (1074), The Book of Dede Korkut (thirteenth century), Hibet-ul Hakaayik (thirteenth century), and Teshil (1480). "Use not the sword against him who asks forgiveness" is from The Book of Dede Korkut ,“If you want to keep your secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend"  is from Hibet-ul Hakaayik  and the following are proverbs appended to Teshil: "He who gathers honey must bear the sting of bees"; "We must beat the iron while it is hot" ["Strike the iron while it is hot"] ; "At the foot of the candle it is dark" ; "Without thorns, no roses" ; "All fingers are not alike"  which is also in Diwan-i Lugat-it Turk

There are other Turkish proverbs appearing in this book which seem to have been taken, with the proverbs mentioned above, from Rev. E.J. Davisos Osmanli Proverbs and Quaint Sayings (1897), which was the translation of Ahmed Midhad Effendi’s Muntahabat-I Durub-I Amsal (1871): "It is too late to shut the stable after the horse is stolen"; “lms are the golden keys that open the gates of heaven" ; "The best apple is eaten by the bear" ; "A good archer is not known by his arrow, but by his aim" ; "I have rather an ass that carries me than a horse that throws me" ; "Among the blind dose your eyes" ; "Every horse thinks his own pack heaviest" ; "No one knows the weight of another's burden" ; "Choose neither a woman nor linen by candlelight" ; "Cleanliness is from faith" ; "A cock is bold on his own dunghill" ; "No road is long with good company" ; "Stretch your legs according to the length of your quilt" ; "What can't be cured must be endured" ; "Marry your son when you will, your daughter when you can" ; "Who does not beat his daughters, will one day strike his knees in vain" ; "The dog barks and the caravan passes" ; "We have two ears and one mouth, that we may listen the more and talk the less" ; "Not with whom you are bred, but with whom you are fed" ; "Seek education, even in China" ; "Be your enemy an ant sec m him an elephant" ; "Uninvited guests sit on thorns" ; "The hem is known on the battlefield" ; "One scabbed sheep will taint a whole nock" ; "A lazy sheep thinks its wool is heavy" ; "To the lazy every day is a holiday" ; "Broth made of cheap meat is tasteless" ; "The mouse that has one hole is quickly taken" ; "Two captains sink the ship" ; "Wheth­er sugar be white or red, it preserves its proper taste" .

None of these proverbs are among the 960 in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, which states that the proverb "The apple never falls far from the tree" is "apparently of Eastern origin." We must also remember that the earliest collections of proverbs in English were published long after Turkish proverbs appeared in written forms.

Of course, Turks did borrow proverbs from other cultures and languages. After they embraced Islam in the tenth century, proverbs of Arab origin began to filter into the Turkish language. There are also proverbs of Persian origin. "Free vinegar is sweeter than honey" is one of them. During and after the Crusades, Turks came into contact with the West. It is quite possible that proverbs as well as weapons were exchanged. The Turkish proverb "If a bald man knew a remedy, he would rub it on his own head" has its counterpart in Latin: Medica, cura te ipsum (Physician, heal thyself). "The sun is not plastered [coated] with clay" (which implies that the truth will always out) also has its counterpart in Latin: Adversus solem ne loquitor. "The honey-man has a hatchet; the woodman has a hatchet" is the Turkish way of saying  Il y a fagots in French.

In English there is a proverb "The fish always stinks from the head downwards." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs says that it is of Greek origin and first appeared in English in 1581 . The Turkish version of it, "The fish stinks from the head," appeared among the proverbs attached to Teshil published in 1480. This and "Every fish that escapes appears greater than it really is" are also cited as Turkish proverbs in the book published by the Armenian monastery of St. Lazarus in Venice, Italy. In this book, we also see "Do not observe the teeth of a horse given as a present," which The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs attributes to a Greek origin. But it is certainly within reason to surmise that the Turks might have "invented" this proverb without knowing its Greek connection when one considers that Turkish has generated dozens of proverbs about the horse (this book contains 66) and also the proverb "When you buy a sheep, look at its tail; when you buy a horse, look at the teeth" (the sheep's tail will tell one how fat it is, while the horse's teeth will show his age). No other language has the same proverb.

Human nature being much the same ail over the world, our minds react more or less the same way. It is expected that similar proverbs will be found in different languages. An English-speaking reader may be accustomed to thinking of the Turks as differing widely from himself or herself in habits of thought, yet, as you will see, many English and American proverbs have counterparts in Turkish. Because of the influence of environment and climate, different peoples vary in rendering the same idea. In England, not enough sunshine but plenty of rain inspired "Make hay while the sun shines," but in arid Central Asia, the birthplace of the Turks, it is wise to "Fill the Jars while it rains." In England "There is no smoke without fire," a picture of the cold climate; in Central Asia, "No leaf flutters without a wind," a picture of open-air pastoral life.

A proverb is a traditional saying, which offers advice or presents a moral in a short or pithy manner. As with proverbs of other nations, the Turkish-speaking peoples’ folk philosophy, distinctive regional customs and, above all, the peculiar flavor of their language and phraseology constitute the uniqueness of Turkish proverbs. A close examination of these proverbs reveals observations about men and things, oriental customs and ceremonies, facts of natural history, fragments of poetry, and quaint rhymes, puns, and similes.

The Turkish word for a proverb, atasozu means "grandfather's sayings," or "words," or "elder's words." "In Turkey no conversation takes place without one or more proverbs being mentioned, and it is amazing to see the influence they have on an audience; as soon as a proverb is recited all heads nod in approval and all arguments cease, a suffering or loss becomes bearable and even death loses its sting, for proverbs embody the crystal truth found by long and painful experience, and even though it may sometimes be bitter, it is an acceptable form."

Turkish proverbs, "with the exception of a few comparatively modem ones, are mostly very old, dating from early centuries when the Turks were leading a nomadic and agricultural life in Central Asia before their victorious armies marched to the West in the Middle Ages. This can be proved by the figurative rendering of many proverbs which frequently refer to country life and domestic animals, especially the latter, animals constitute the main metaphorical feature of Turkish proverbs." In Turkish Delights the following animals are mentioned in one or more proverbs: ass, bat, bear, bird, calf, camel, cat, chicken, cock, cow, crow, dog, donkey, duck, eagle, falcon, fish, foal, fox, frog, goat, goose, hare, hen, horse, Jackal, kid, lamb, lion, mouse, mule, ostrich, ox, pig, ram, raven, serpent, sheep, snake, sparrow, steed, stork, tortoise, wolf.^ I know of no other language which is as rich in animal proverbs as Turkish.

Turkish proverbs also tell us what the originators of those wise sayings cultivated and ate. Honey ("It is not by saying 'honey, honey’ that sweetness will come into the mouth" advises us that only action produces results, not talking about things to be done), halwa, milk, yogurt, bread, rice, wheat, watermelon ("One cannot carry two watermelons under one armpit" is a warning against doing more than one thing at a time), grapes, apple, pear, cucumber ("A cucumber being given to a poor man, he did not accept it, because it was crooked" is a reference to ingratitude), beans, salt, onion, garlic ("Your mouth will not smell if you do not eat garlic" tells us that a clear conscience does not fear accusation), sugar, eggplant ("The frost does not harm an old eggplant" implies that the bad man escapes punishment, or you cannot spoil what is already spoiled), vinegar, and watercress are all employed metaphorically in these proverbs.

As it is today, the rose is the most favored flower. Eleven proverbs mention it, but the tulip, first cultivated in Turkey in the seventeenth century, is mentioned only once: "The fireside is the tulip garden of a winter day." This is another indication that Turks brought their proverbs with them when they migrated to Asia Minor from Central Asia in the ninth and tenth centuries, for there are only a handful of proverbs, which came into usage after the sixteenth century. The proverb about the tulip is one of them.

Although Turks disseminated their proverbs in Balkan countries when they occupied them, the natives of those countries have kept them alive. Albanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, and the different languages of Yugoslavia all contain large numbers of proverbs from Turkish. Professor Vilmos Tolnai says that in the Hungarian "wayside sayings and proverbs... one can discover ... old relics of the Ugro-Finnish era. There are also to be found many indications of Turkish origin . . . also the newer Osmanli [Ottoman] Turkish." Professor S. Topalian, an Armenian scholar at the School of Oriental Studies in London in the 1930s, pointed out that "Turkish proverbs with their idyllic rendering remind one of the teachings of Christ who took his similes from shepherds and lambs, from flowers and seeds, and this perhaps explains the reason why they are cherished so much by the Christian subjects of the former Ottoman Empire, who hold them in great respect and affection."


No matter how tall a tree grows its leaves always fall to the ground..
He who borrows gets sorrows.
A heavy stone is not easily moved.
There is an uphill for every downhill, and a downhill for every uphill.
A nail will come out, but its hole remains.
Gold does not rust on the ground, and rocks don't get soaked in the rain.
A twig is bent while it is green.
He who sends a child on an errand must go after him as well.
Either drive this camel to pasture or leave the country.



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