Get Original Mehter CD !
White clothes soon get dirty.


In trying to understand a proverb the peculiarities of its language should be taken into consideration. This will explain many points that might appear at first obscure and grotesque. In English proverbs there is a reasonable contrast of one with two. “0ne bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, or, for the sake of rhyme, 'One stitch in time saves nine'; but on all similar occasions the Turkish has 'a thousand.' 'One tribulation teaches more than a thousand warnings'; 'A thousand worries do not pay a single debt'; 'Measure a thousand times before cutting once’ etc. A superficial explanation will attribute this to Oriental exaggeration, but the true explanation lies in the fact that the Turkish words for a thousand and one 'bin, bir', have an alliteration and euphonic charm almost too strong to resist."

Turkish proverbs are generally very short, because the language lacks relative pronouns(Who, whom, which, that, and whose). For example, Ayıpsız dost arayan dostsuz kalır (He who looks for a friend without fault, remains without a friend); Yemeyenin malını yerler (They eat the food of him who does not eat his own food); Islanmışın yağmurdan korkusu olmaz' (A man who is drenched does not fear rain); Ambarda kalan sıçan aç kalmaz (The mouse that stays in the bam does not get hungry); Bir deliği olan fare çabuk tutulur (The mouse that has only one hole in soon caught); Fare çıktığı deliği bilir (The mouse knows the hole from which he has issued); Anasının övdüğü kızla değil, eltisinin övdüğü kızla evlen (Do not marry the girl whose mother brags about her; marry the girl whose sister-in-law speaks highly of her).

A favorite type of Turkish proverb consists of two complementary clauses. We find the same sort of parallelism sometimes in English: "Two blacks do not make a white; two wrongs do not make a right." This balanced structure is highly characteristic of Turkish proverbs: "A man becomes experienced by being defeated; a scholar, by making mistakes"; "Some cannot find a bridge to cross [the water]; others cannot find water to drink"; "He who is well-fed does not know the one who is hungry; he who is well does not know the one who is ill"; "The capital of the rich man is in his [safe] box; the capital of the scholar is in his head"; "Moisture ruins the wall; grief ruins the man"; "Worn cotton does not become doth; the old enemy does not become a friend"; "He who asks [advice] passes the mountain; he who does not loses his way in the level plain."

Alliteration, as in many English proverbs (e.g., "Where there's a will there's a way"; "A miss is as good as a mile"; "One swallow doesn't make a summer"; "Practice makes perfect") plays a conspicuous part in Turkish proverbs together with the rhythmic effect produced by harmonious arrangements of syllables, or by parallelism, which is generally reinforced by internal rhymes. These poetic characteristics enhance the following proverbs: Derdini saklayan derman bulamaz (He who conceals his grief finds no remedy for it); Avcı ne kadar hile bilirse, ayı da o kadar yol bilir (The bear knows as many roads as the hunter knows tricks); Söyleyene bakma söyletene bak (Do not observe the man that speaks, but him [or it] that is the cause of his speaking); Alçak yerde yatma sel alır, yüksek yerde yatma yel alır (Do not lie on low ground, the torrent will take you off; do not lie on high ground, the wind will take you away); Bacan tütsün de dumanlı olsun; ekmeğin olsun da samanlı olsun (Let it be your own fire though smoky; let it be your own bread though chaffy); Adama dayanma ölür; duvara dayanma yıkılır (Do not put your trust in a man, for he dies; do not lean against a wall, for it falls down); İki gönül bir olunca, samanlık seyran olur (For love-united hearts a hayloft is a promenade); Ata binmeyen ata binse, koştura koştura öldürür; kürk giymeyen kürk giyse silke silke eskitir (He who has never ridden a horse kills it by forcing it to run all the time; he who has never worn a fur coat ruins it by shaking it to get rid of the dust all the time); Tatsız aşa tuz neylesi, akılsız başasöz neylesin (Salt does not do any good to a tasteless meal neither do words to a head without intelligence); Eşek ölür semeri kalır; insane ölür eseri kalır  (When an ass dies, his saddle remains; when a man dies, his deeds).

Often an element of quaint or humorous exaggeration in Turkish proverbs adds to their charm: "A neighbor's hen looks as big as a goose, and his wife as young as a girl"; "When a blind man dies, they say he had almond eyes; when a bald man dies, they say he had golden hair" (a reference to an exaggerated praise of the dead or the past); "If skill would be gained by watching, every dog would become a butcher"; "A hungry hen dreams she is in the barley bam"; "The old cat looks for a young mouse"; "He sleeps in the dunghill but dreams of becoming the grand vizier"; "When the lion becomes old, he watches the hole of the mouse"; "The thicker the veil, the less worth lifting."

Like proverbs from other nations, Turkish proverbs share the common characteristics of proverbial philosophy, with its emphasis on self-reliance, work, prudence, and pagan virtues, and its skeptical attitude toward the world and human motives. Numerous proverbs are tinged with a titillating cynicism: "One gold piece covers one thousand faults"; "When we sing everyone hears; when we sigh, none" ("Feast, and your halls are crowded; fast, and the world goes by"); "They asked the goodness where it was going. 'To the ingratitude,' it said" ("No good deed comes unpunished"); "While the pot boils the friendship lasts"; "The rich man's fault and the poor man's illness are not made public."


A judicious reading of some Turkish proverbs will show that the old Turkish society—and to a large extent Turkish society today—is patriarchal. Father is the head of the family. Because of their long life and experience, elder men are highly respected. Sons are more valued than daughters, for they carry the family name and its tradition to the following generation. This should not be taken to mean that women are second-class citizens. As mentioned earlier, even alter embracing Islam, Turks continued to live monogamously. Polygamy was never widely practiced in Turkey. In the old Turkish kingdoms, the queen sat next to the king when he accepted emissaries from other countries.

Motherhood is the greatest honor a woman can achieve. "There is no finer sweetheart than one's mother"; "Paradise lies under the feet of mothers"; "If anyone weeps for you, it will be your mother; others will only pretend to weep"; "Look at the beautiful girl not when she is a girl but by the cradle"—these are some of the proverbs showing the high esteem accorded to mothers.

No harshly denigrating and insulting proverbs about women exist in Turkish similar to those in other languages: in English ("A woman is an angel at ten, saint at fifteen, a devil at forty, and a witch at fourscore"; "Trust your dog to the end; a woman till the first opportunity"; "A woman will laugh in your face and cut your throat"; "Women are saints in church, angels in the street, devils in the kitchen, and apes in bed")^; in French ("A woman is an animal who dresses, chatters, and besmears herself”; "Of women and horses there are none without defects"; "A woman is a perfect devil"); in German ("What a devil cannot do a woman can"; "When a woman dies, there is one less quarrel on earth"; "A woman has the form of an angel, the heart of a serpent, and the sense of an ass"; "Woman is like an onion, nice and white to look at, but when cut into, there is no kernel, no heart, and [it] must cry"; "The devil requires ten hours to deceive one man, a woman one hour to deceive ten men"); in Greek ("Nothing is worse than a woman, even the best of them"; "Believe no woman, even when she is dead"); in Hungarian ("A bone for my dog, a stick for my wife"; "It is much easier to take care of a sackful of fleas than a woman"); in Italian ("As both a good horse and a bad horse need a spur, so both a good woman and a bad woman need a stick"; "When a woman reigns the devil governs"; "Women, asses, and nuts require strong heads''); in Polish ("The devil is no match for a woman"; "Selling your soul to the devil is the same as selling it to a woman"; "The devil swallowed a woman, but he could not digest her"; "A fire scorches from nearby, a beautiful woman from nearby and afar"); in Russian ("Where the devil is powerless he sends a woman as his messenger"; "A chicken is not a bird, a woman is not a human being"; "Beat a woman with ^ hammer and you'll make gold"; "Do what you like with women and cattle"); 'in Yiddish ("Pray to God to preserve you from bad women, and preserve yourself from the good ones"); in Hebrew ("When an ass climbs a ladder, we may find wisdom in women")'; in Chinese ("There is no such poison in the green snake's mouth, or the hornet's sting, as in a woman's heart" ); in Hindu ("To educate a woman is like placing a knife in the hands of a monkey"; "A woman is the chief gate to hell"); and in Japanese ("Never trust a woman, even if she has born to you seven children"). In the whole catalogue of Turkish proverbs two may be considered disparaging to women: "Long hair—short brain" (Women have long hair but little intelligence), and "Believe in one out of forty words that a woman says."


 Those Turks who marched from Central Asia to Central Europe had to be fierce warriors who nevertheless fought within certain rules. The "whole duty of a man" is succinctly stated in the precept of Abou Bekr, Islam's first Caliph:

"Be just: the unjust never prospers. Be valiant: die rather than yield. Be merciful: slay neither old men, children, nor women. Destroy neither fruit trees, grain, nor cattle. Keep your word, even to your enemies."

"The whole duty of a warrior" is captured in the following proverbs in The Book of Dede Korkut; "A warrior does not raise his sword to a pleading man"; "A good warrior is seldom quarrelsome"; "Better that none should wield the sword which strikes and cuts than that the un manly should wield it"; "To the warrior who knows how to wield it a dub is better than an arrow and a sword."

"Turkish proverbs are very remarkable in expressing complex ideas in a simple way; for instance, the Utopia of Communism and human equality is brushed aside by simply (you see) 'Five fingers are not equal.' "^ There is no anti-wealth proverb, and judging from the proverbs relating to wealth, a vineyard was the sign of it.

The rich, however, are encouraged to share their wealth with those less fortunate. In fact, giving is one of the pillars of Islam. Those having property are required to give one-fortieth of their wealth to the poor each year. Several proverbs attest to the importance of helping the poor: "It is the generous who open the gate of heaven"; "A man without generosity is like a mill without water"; "What is the difference between paupers and grandees without generosity?"

Numerous proverbs about God show that religion plays a very important role in an average Turk's life. As will also be seen when one reads the numerous proverbs on destiny, a Turk believes that events are predetermined and inevitable. He is a fatalist.

Although a Turk is a devout Moslem, his exemplary tolerance of other faiths is evident in the proverb passed from one generation to another, "To you your religion, and to me my religion." One must add that despite the high regard a Turk has for his religious leaders, imams, he did not shrink from making fun of them when he thought it was necessary: "A half doctor takes your life away; a half imam, your faith"; "Food from the house of an imam, tears from the eyes of a corpse" (which is an allusion to imams' alleged stinginess); "The fool is pleased with a fool, the imam with a dead person" (the one because like loves like; the other, because at the funeral he will receive fees).

When societies are strong and prosperous, people who make up the society hold the law in high esteem. As societal decadence begins, the same laws lose their previous hold on the people. "The finger cut according to the Sharia [Islamic religious law] does not hurt" is a reference to the supreme importance of the law; that was the time people believed that their necks were thinner than a single hair before the law. The sultan was then the supreme ruler, and the sheik-ul-Islam, chief of the religious affairs, who was appointed by the sultan, administered the law. In the Ottoman Empire's heyday, it was unthinkable not to heed what sultans said, which, in a sense, was the law itself. In later centuries, another proverb, "The sultan's prohibition lasts only for three days," clearly suggests people did not pay much attention to sultans' edicts then.


As the reader will quickly see, some Turkish proverbs may resemble puzzling riddles for those unfamiliar with Turkish customs and modes of thinking. A few examples are m order. "He who steals a minaret prepares a case for it." Obviously stealing a minaret, as well as preparing a case for it, is simply impossible. What the proverb implies is this: Anyone who accepts a task as difficult as stealing a minaret must be ready for all the obstacles on his way to achieve his goal, or a man must accept the full consequences of what he does willingly or knowingly.

"Do not sprinkle blood on a dying tree." Kuru ağaca kan bulanmaz." One should not try to make something (or someone) look more desirable if it (or he) does not deserve it. The proverb refers to an old Turkish superstitious custom that sprinkling the blood of a cow, or a sheep, on a dying tree makes it productive again.

"A dowry of barley does not solve every problem." Again, to grasp the subtlety of this proverb we have to go back to the past when a bridegroom, if poor, could give his future father-in-law some barley as a dowry to marry his daughter. But the proverb has nothing to do with the marriage. It implies that the question (or matter) is more difficult than one would think.

"For a lean ox, there is no knife" is self-evident: only the fat and healthy animal is butchered. But what the proverb implies ^ quite different due to Turkish history. During the reign of the Ottoman sultans, especially toward the empire's demise, wealth sometimes imperiled its possessor, but the poor were comparatively safe. Hence the proverb.

"The horns that come out later outstrip the ears" refers to young cattle, deer, etc. in which the horns do not appear for some time. The proverb implies that an able apprentice outdistances his master.

"Garlic was made a bride, and its smell was not noticed for forty days" implies that it takes time to understand what is bad.

"The cock is dead, but its eyes remain gazing in the dung heap" refers to a ruling passion strong in death, or to one who looks regretfully back to things that are lost.

"He who wants to kiss does not ask *Where is your cheek?' " implies if someone wants to help another, he should not ask what his needs are or what he can do for him when his needs are obvious.

When studying Turkish proverbs, one sees the same sentiment sometimes expressed by different proverbs: "No one gives alms to a dosed palm," and "No one will give suck [breast milk] to a baby who does not cry." Both proverbs imply that anyone who needs help must ask for it. Again, "You cannot hold the horse with an empty bag," and "The bees do not stay in a hive that has no honey." The implication of both proverbs is that in order to have someone do something for you, you must give him something.

Having come into usage at different times and under various circumstances, some proverbs contradict each other: "The grape, observing a grape, becomes black [i.e. ripens]", and "Though the rain may fall for forty years, it does not pass into [penetrate] the marble." The first proverb implies that the bad behavior of one's companion infects one ["Evil communications corrupt good manners"] while the second proverb implies that the pure and virtuous are not easily corrupted ["The sun is never worse for shining on a dunghill"]. Or, "The sheep that gives milk is not taken from the flock [to be slaughtered]", and "If good had been given for good, the old ox would not have been slaughtered." (Despite all the work the old ox had done when young and strong, he is still slaughtered by his master when he is no longer useful.) Or, again, "There is no sovereignty like bachelor­hood", and "There is no buffoonery like bachelorhood."

A few words about illustration. The book of proverbs is not, of  course, an art book However, after the triumphant "invasion”' in 1987 of "The Age of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent" in Washington,D.C., Chicago, and New York City, "one of the most spectacular exhibitions ever set before the American public" according to art critic John Russell of the New York Times. I decided to include samples of Turkish decorative art in this book. Some are pictures of the objects shown in this exhibition. The rest of the illustrations, like the cover design, were drawn by the young American artist Laurie Webber based upon Turkish originals.

Turkish art, like Turkish proverbs, is not well known in the United Stales. The Honorable William B. Macomber, former United States Ambassador to Turkey and the former President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, wrote in the introduction of this writer's The Wit and Wisdom of Nasraddin Hodja, "It has always seemed unfortunate to me that the people of the United States and the people of Turkey, whose nations are important allies, do not know one another better. Too often each thinks of the other in the simplified terms of cultural stereotype."

"The Age of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent" was truly an ex­hibition that introduced Turkish art to this country. This is how Philip Morris Companies Inc., the main sponsor of the exhibition, promoted it in advertisements in major newspapers and magazines in the United States:

"These [pictures of some objects which were exhibited] are some examples of the art of a great empire and a great people that Americans know very little about. They are part of a stunning exhibition entitled 'The Age of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent/ Its final appearance will be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from October 4th, 1987, through January 17th, 1988, completing a year-long tour of three of America's most prestigious museums.

"At the height of power under Suleiman, the Ottoman Turks ruled large areas of Europe, Asia and Africa. Faced with the imperial need to understand a bewildering variety of conflicting cultures—and the compelling need to maintain their own—they attempted the impossible, and succeeded. They created an art that harmonized opposites—austere  and lush, concisely clear and impenetrably complex—and found pure beauty in pure design. In doing so, they made of themselves and their art a bridge between East and West, a bridge that still serves the modern world.

"That's one reason why we are supporting this exhibition and why we urge you to see it. In our business as in yours, we need to be reminded that the art of innovation knows no boundaries, including the seemingly impossible, and that one of the noblest works of art is a bridge between cultures."

Of course, it would please me immensely if the proverbs and folk sayings in this book help bring Americans and one of American’s strong allies, Turks, a little more closer.

No translation of any proverb, no matter how carefully done, can convey the true form and charm of the original. This is especially true of Turkish proverbs since brevity and rhyme, which play a very important part in them, often have to be sacrificed in translations. Despite that 1,970 proverbs and folk sayings are in tins book under their proper headings and with explanations—sometimes with their closest English-American equivalents. As the reader will see, they can proudly stand on their own merit in any collection of the world's proverbs.

In the West it is said that with the spread of education, the use of proverbs has lessened. This cannot be said of Turkish proverbs, for the teaching of proverbs is not only a part of the curriculum in Turkish schools but there is hardly any conversation without mentioning, or alluding to, a proverb. As Professor S. Topalian of the London School of Oriental Studies aptly put it in 1938, "There can be no fear of their being forgotten, for they will live as long as me Turkish nation and the language live, because men and women need them in their daily life as they need daily bread, for [as a Turkish proverb states] 'He who does not heed proverbs, will not avoid mistakes.”


New York City September 1988

From The Turkish Delights, A Treasury of Proverbs and Folk Saying.

National Education Press,1998


They asked the Turkmen whether he wants to buy bees, he said "Why should I have all that buzz with my money?
Tell me who your friend is, and I'll tell you who you are.
In a flat country a hillock thinks itself a mountain.
Kiss the hand which you cannot wring.
Remain hungry but do not start begging.
He who sleeps with a blind man will wake up cross-eyed.
Foresight is considered a part of  courage.
Every one is a lord in his own home.
If the insolent man is strong, the one in the right is considered guilty.



Get Adobe Flash player