Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yiddish proverbs - the fool and the wise man

Here is the first of a series of posts featuring lists of Yiddish proverbs by subject. We start with the fool and the wise man. I think all cultures have such proverbs, certainly in English we do – fools rush in where brave men fear to tread etc. So it is a subject and a form that is well recognised and we eagerly soak up these new perspectives on an old subject.

As I was thinking of an intro I realized that there is really no such thing as a pure fool or a pure wise man. We are all fools on some subject or other and we are all relatively wise on some subjects. Not only that, we can be fools for short periods of time, for example when we are stuck (when we ‘do the same thing over and over expecting a different result’), when we are ‘dis-couraged’, or when we are angry. And even foolish people can take on the mantle of wisdom when they are fearless, when they speak the truth that others dare only to think, and when they are sincerely themselves.
So we all have something of a working relationship with stupidity and wisdom and I found that relationship very well put in this quote, which I just happened to fall upon today:

Every creative act is a sudden cessation of stupidity. Edwin Land

With that in mind, here are the collective insights of countless Yiddish generations on the fool and the wise man.

A fool can ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in a year.
A dead man is mourned seven days; a fool, his lifetime.
A fool is his own informer.
A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.
A fool who can keep silent is counted among the wise.
If you seek a reputation for wisdom, agree with everyone.
A fool grows without rain.
The complete fool is half prophet.
Not everyone who sits in the seat of honour is master.
Send a fool to close the shutters and he'll close them all over town.
Send a fool to the market and a fool he will return.
A schlemiel lands on his back, and bruises his nose.
We are all schlemiels.
Hope may give a man strength, but not sense.
If the head doesn't work it's bad news for the legs.
When the stomach is empty, so is the brain.
Some people are like new shoes - the cheaper they are, the louder they squeak!
One fool is an expert on the other.
The crow flies high and alights on a pig.
A snake deserves no pity.
A chip on the shoulder indicates wood higher up.
A dog without teeth will also attack a bone.
Show a dog a finger, and he wants the whole hand.
Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.

A wise man hears one word and understands two.
A wise man knows what he says; a fool says what he knows.
All signs are misleading.
Better ask ten times than go astray once.
He that cannot ask cannot live.
When a wise man talks to a fool, two fools are talking.
Hell shared with a sage is better than paradise with a fool.
Talking comes by nature, silence by wisdom.
Talk is worth a shilling; silence is worth two.
Talk too much and you talk about yourself.
Protest long enough that you are right, and you will be wrong.
Silence is also speech.
Beware of still water, a still dog, and a still enemy.
The wise man, even when he holds his tongue, says more than the fool when he speaks.
Time and words can't be recalled, even if it was only yesterday.
One good forewit is worth two afterwits.
Words should be weighed, not counted.
Words show the wit of a man, but actions his meaning. 

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond