Episode 40 – Five proverbs

Proverbs come in handy when we want to give advice about something in the future or point out something in the past that in hindsight seems obvious. For example, should you settle for what you have or risk it all to possibly get something better? We don’t have the answers, but in this episode Leen shares five useful proverbs for the next time you find yourself in some common conundrums.

Lebanese Arabic Transcript and English Contextual Translation


مرحبا وأهلا وسهلا فيكن بحلقة جديدة من لانغويج وايف. أنا لين، واليوم رح احكيلكن عن جزء مهم من الثقافة اللبنانية. عن عادة تداولتا الأجيال اللبنانية خلال السنين وبعدا لهلأ موجودة. رح احكيلكن عن الأمثال الشعبية. الناس بتقول الآلاف من الأمثال الشعبية بكتير من المواقف يلي بتصير معا، وبتعبر عن الموقف بعبارات بسيطة وقصيرة وعفوية.

Hello, and welcome to a new episode of Language Wave. I am Leen, and today I will tell you about an important part of the Lebanese culture; about a custom that has been passed on by Lebanese generations throughout the years and still exists till now. I will tell you about Lebanese proverbs. People use thousands of popular proverbs in many of the situations that they encounter, and they express the situation through simple, short, and spontaneous phrases.


الأمثال الشعبية منتشرة بكل دول العالم، واليوم رح احكيلكن عن الأمثال الشعبية اللبنانية، معنى المثل وأهميتو، سبب انتشارو واستمراريتو لهلأ، و كيف منقدر نفهم المثل. وبعدين رح ننتقل لنشرح قصة خمس أمثال.  وآخر مثل منن قالتو إختي لإبنا بموقف صار بيناتن.

Popular proverbs are spread in all countries of the world, and today I will tell you about Lebanese popular proverbs, the meaning of a proverb and its importance, the reason for which it is spread and for its longevity, and how we can understand the proverb. Afterwards, we will move to explaining the story of five proverbs, the last of which my sister had said to her son in a situation that took place between them.


الأمثال الشعبية اللبنانية هي فن شعبي منتشر بين الناس، وبيتألف المثل من عبارات متناسقة وقصيرة من واقع الحياة بلبنان. وظهرت هالأمثال نتيجة تجارب وأحداث مرقو فيا اللبنانية. يعني الأمثال بتعبر عن ثقافة الشعب اللبناني وبتنقل وجهة نظرو بطريقة مهضومة وخفيفة وبأسلوب سهل.

The Lebanese popular proverbs are a folk art that is spread among people, and the proverb consists of harmonic and short expressions from the reality of life in Lebanon. These proverbs appeared as a result of experiences and events that the Lebanese went through. This means that proverbs express the Lebanese people’s culture and conveys their point of view in a funny and light way, and in an easy style.


بتحمل بمعانيا كثير من الدروس والعبر، وبتوصّل رسالة ليلّي عم  يسمع بطريقة مرحة، وبتأثر بطريقة غير مباشرة بالناس. لهالأسباب اللي خبرتكن عنا، بقيت الأمثال من أيام زمان لهلأ وما تغيرت، وضلو الناس حافظينا وبقولوا وبيتوارثوا من جيل لجيل.

It holds in its meanings a lot of lessons and morals, delivers a message to those listening in a fun way, and influences people in an indirect way. For all these reasons I told you about, proverbs remained since the old times till now and did not change, people still have them memorized, and they say them and inherit them from generation to generation.


وبسبب أهمية وانتشار الأمثال الشعبية، كتب عنا المؤلفين كتير من الكتب. حكو فيا عن هالأمثال، معانيا، أهدافا، وأهميتا بتوصيل فكرة معينة. وبتنقسم الأمثال الشعبية لنوعين: حقيقي وخيالي.

And because of the importance and spread of popular proverbs, authors wrote about them a lot of books in which they talked about these proverbs, their meanings, their purposes, and their importance in delivering a certain idea. Popular proverbs are divided into two types: real and fictional.


الأمثال الشعبية بتحكي عن كل المواضيع الإنسانية الموجودة بالمجتمع اللبناني متل أهمية العيلة والأهل والجيران والأصحاب.

Popular proverbs address all the humanitarian matters found in the Lebanese society like the importance of family, parents, neighbors, and friends.


و كمان في كتير أمثال بتعبر عن المبادئ، الأخلاق، والقيم الإنسانية متل الكرم، الحب، الصدق، الصبر، والتعاطف.

Also, there are a lot of proverbs that express principles, ethics, and human values such as generosity, love, honesty, patience, and compassion.


و هالأمثال بتكون مقبولة، وبتنتشر بسرعة، وبتوصل الرسالة المطلوبة للناس بكل حب وتقبل. فإجمالا بكون فيا نوع من المزح.

These proverbs are usually accepted, quickly spread, and deliver the desired message to people with much love and acceptance, given that they generally have a sense of humor in them.


 و كتير من الأمثال مرتبطة بحوادث وحكايات بتساعد على انتشارا. وفي أمثال نقالت بمواقف صارت من زمن بعيد، متل المثل المعروف يلي بقول “متل مسمار جحا”. شو قصتو هالمثل؟ جحا شخصية مهضومة وبتضحك معروفة بالعالم العربي. هالشخصية بيكتبو عنا الكتاب، وبفرجو إنو جحا بيتصرف مع المواقف اللي بيمرق فيا بحياتو بذكى ساخر، ليوصل الكاتب من خلالا الكتير من العبر والدروس بالحياة.

A lot of proverbs are linked to events and tales that contribute to its spread, and there are proverbs that were said in situations, which took place a long time ago, such as the renowned proverb that says “Like Jiha’s nail”. What is the story behind this proverb? Jiha is a funny and humorous character renowned in the Arab world. Authors write about this character, and they show that Jiha deals with situations he goes through in life in a smart comic way, so that the writer conveys through it a lot of morals and life lessons.


جحا كان عندو بيت، فكر بيوم من الإيام يبيعو لهالبيت، بس بشرط إنو يلي بدو يشتريه لازم يخلّي بحيط البيت مسمار، وإنو صاحب البيت الجديد ممنوع يمنع جحا إنو يجي كل يوم يتطمن على مسمارو ويتأكد إنو بعدو محلو. وبيوم من الإيام إجا شخص واشترى البيت، وقبل بشرط جحا، بس ما كان عارف شو ناطرو. فصار جحا كل يوم يفوت على البيت ويتطمن على مسمارو، وصار يجي بوقت الضهر عوقت الغدا. فلما يفوت جحا ليتطمن على مسمارو، يستحي صاحب البيت منو ويضطر إنو يعزمو عالغدا. ويضل جحا قاعد بالبيت للعشا، فكمان يتعشا عند صاحب البيت.

Jiha had a house. He thought one day to sell this house under one condition, which is that who wants to buy it has to keep a nail in the house’s wall, and that the new house owner cannot prevent Jiha from coming every day to check on his nail and make sure it is still in place. One day, a person came, bought the house, and agreed to Jiha’s term, but he did not know what was waiting him. Thus, Jiha started to enter the house every day and check on his nail, and he started to come at noon time; at lunch time. So when Jiha enters to check on his nail, the house owner would feel embarrassed and obliged to invite him for lunch. Jiha would stay at the house until dinner, so he would also have dinner at the house owner’s place.


وهيك ضل على هالحالة كذا يوم. وبيوم من الإيام، بالوقت اللي كان فيه جحا عند صاحب البيت، فرش عبايتو وقرر ينام تحت ظل مسمارو. فصاحب البيت زهق من هالوضع وتركلو لجحا البيت والمسمار وفل. هالمثل بينقال لما شخص ما بيربطو بمحل معين إلا شي بسيط وما إلو قيمة، بس صعب إنو ينقلو يترك هالمحل لإنو مرتبط بهيدا الشي البسيط.

He stayed like this for several days. And one day, while Jiha was at the house owner’s place, he spread his cloak and decided to sleep under the shadow of his nail. Thus, the house owner got fed up of this situation. He abandoned the house and the nail to Jiha, and left. This proverb is said when a person in only linked to a place though something simple and of no value, yet it is hard to tell him to leave this place because he is attached to this simple thing.


والمثل التاني يلي رح نحكي عنو هو “عصفور بالإيد ولا عشرة عالشجرة”. قصة هالمثل بتقول إنو في شخص قدر إنو يلقط عصفور. وهو وماشي وبإيدو هالعصفور، شاف عدد كبير من العصافير على الشجرة وقرر إنو يطيّر العصفور يلي بإيدو ويطلع على الشجرة تيلقط العصافير الكتار. وأول ما قرب الرجال من الشجرة، طارو كل العصافير.

The second proverb we will talk about is “One bird in the hand, better than ten on the tree.” The story of this proverb says that there was someone who was able to catch a bird. And while he was walking with the bird in his hand, he saw a big number of birds on a tree. He decided to release the bird in his hand and climb the tree to catch many birds. As soon as the man got close to the tree, all the birds flew away.


و بما إنو طير العصفور الوحيد يلي قدر يلقطو، بقي الرجال بلا ولا عصفور. والعبرة أو الدرس يلي بيوصلو هالمثل هو إنو الإنسان لازم يقتنع ويحافظ على اللي القادر يحصل عليه والموجود بين إيديه، حتى لو كان شي قليل. أحسن من الكتير اللي ما قادر يوصلو ويحصل عليه.

And given that he had released the only bird he was able to catch, the man was left without any bird. The moral or the lesson conveyed by this proverb is that a person should be satisfied and should preserve what he is able to get and what is present in his hands, even if it was something little. Better a lot than the plenty, which he is unable to reach or have.


و تالت مثل هو “إجا يكحلا، عماها”. بيوم من الإيام شاف شاب جارتو وكانت طالعة كتير حلوة. فسألا عن سر جمالا، فقالتلو إنو الكحل لبعيونا. فقرر الشب وقتا إنو يصير يحط كحل بعيونو تيبيّن جمالو للناس. وهو وعم بحط كحل بعيونو لأول مرة، فات ضفرو ببؤبؤ عينو، جرحا وصار أعمى الشاب بوقتا. وصارت الناس تقول المثل “إجا ليكحلا، عماها” وقتا حدا يحاول يصلح شي، فبقوم بينزعو بدل ما يزبطو.

The third proverb is “He came to wear kohl but blinded himself instead”. One day, a guy saw his neighbor, and she was looking very pretty. So he asked her about the secret of her beauty, and she told him that it is the kohl in her eyes. Thus, the guy decided to start wearing kohl in his eyes to show people his beauty. And while he was applying kohl in his eyes for the first time, his nail went through his pupil, he injured it, and the guy became blind at that time. People then started to say the proverb “He came to wear kohl but blinded himself instead” when someone tries to fix something, but he ruins it instead of fixing it.


والمثل الرابع لليوم مثل كتير معروف والناس كتير بتتداولو، هو “حبل الكذب قصير”. شو قصتو هالمثل؟ بيوم من الإيام، كان في تاجر كبير عندو خدم وحشم. ومرة واحد من هالخدم سرق مبلغ مصاري كبير من هالتاجر. وبوقتا، التاجر كتير حتار. مين ممكن يكون السارق؟ ففكر التاجر بحيلة تيعرف مين هو السارق. عيط للخدم وجمعن، وعطى كل واحد منن حبل طولو نص متر، وقلن السارق رح يطول حبلو 10 سنتيمترات بكرا. وطلب منن يجتمعو ويلاقوه تاني نهار.

The fourth proverb for today is a renowned proverb that is used a lot by people. It is “The rope of lying is short”. What is the story behind this proverb? Once upon a time, there was a prominent merchant who had servants and maids. One day, one of these servants stole a big amount of money from this merchant. At that time, the merchant was very confused. Who could the thief be? So the merchant thought of a trick to identify the thief. He called for his servants, gathered them, and gave each one of them a rope that is half a meter in length. He told them that the thief’s rope will be 10 centimeters longer tomorrow, and he asked them to gather and meet him up the following day.


و فعلاً، تاني نهار جمع التاجر الخدم وأخد منن الحبال. فلاقى واحد من الحبال أقصر من بقية الحبال ب10 سنتميترات. يلي صار هو إنو السارق فكر إنو حبلو رح يطول 10 سنتيمترات تاني نهار، فقام قص 10 سنتميترات تيبين إنو ضل حبلو بنفس الحجم. ووقتا اكتشف التاجر، وعرف إنو هو الحرامي، وقال المثل المشهور “حبل الكذب قصير”. والعبرة من هالمثل إنو قد ما الواحد كذب، الحقيقة بدا تبين بالأخير.

And indeed, the following day, the merchant gathered the servants and took the ropes from them.  He found one of the ropes 10 centimeters shorter than the rest of the ropes. What happened is that the thief thought that his rope will become 10 centimeters longer the following day, thus he cut 10 centimeters so that it appears that his rope remained of the same size. At that time, the merchant figured it out, he knew that this is the thief, and he said the renowned proverb “The rope of lying is short.” The moral behind this proverb is that no matter how much someone lies, the truth will eventually appear.


وخامس وآخر مثل لليوم تعرفت عليه وقتا مرة كنت عند إختي، وسمعتا عم تقول لإبنا إنو يقوم يدرس تينجح. فقلا إبنا “ما تخافي، أكيد رح انجح بلا ما ادرس حتى”. فقالتلو إمو “عيش يا كديش لينبت الحشيش”. كتير استغربت من الجملة اللي قالتا، فسألتا “شو معناتو هالمثل؟” فصارت تشرحلي. قالت لي: “الكديش هو حمار بيستعملو الفلاح لحتى يحرث الأرض.

The fifth and last proverb for today I got to know when one time I was at my sister’s house, and I heard her telling her son to go study so that he would pass. Her son replied “Do not worry. I will surely pass without even studying.” His mother then told him “Stay alive donkey until the grass grows.” I was astonished by the phrase she said so I asked her “What is the meaning of this proverb?” She then started explaining. She said to me “Al-kdeesh is a donkey used for land cultivation.


 بيوم من الإيام كان في فلاح عندو كديش وما كان يرحمو. كان دايما يتعبو ويجوعو. كان جارو لهالفلاح يشوفو كيف كان يتعّب كديشو المسكين. فراح لعندو مرة وطلب منو إنو يرحمو شوي ويريحو ويزدلو أكلو. بس الفلاح ما كان يسمع كلمة جارو، لحتى بيوم من الإيام وقع الكديش من الجوع والتعب.

Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had a donkey, and he never had mercy on it. He used to always exhaust and starve it. The farmer’s neighbor used to watch how he is exhausting his poor donkey. So one time, he went to him and asked him to have some mercy on it, let it rest, and increase its food. But the farmer did not listen to his neighbor until one day, the donkey dropped of tiredness and hunger.


 بوقتا ركض الفلاح لعند جارو لحتى ينصحو ويقلّو شو يعمل، فجارو للفلاح رجع عاد و كرر النصيحة وقلو إنو لازم يريح حمارو ويطعميه أكل اكتر. فتطلع الفلاح بحمارو، ووعدو وقلو “خلص يا حماري، رح ريحك، وبس يطلع الحشيش بزدلك الأكل”. ساعتا قال الجار “عيش يا كديش لينبت الحشيش”. فقالت لي إختي “عرفتي هلأ ليش قلت لإبني هالمثل؟ الكديش ما رح يعيش لينبت الحشيش، وإبني ما رح ينجح اذا ما درس”.

At that time, the farmer ran to his neighbor so that he would advise him and tell him what to do.  The farmer’s neighbor again repeated the advice and told him to let his donkey rest and feed it more food. So the farmer looked at his donkey, promised it, and said to it “Enough my donkey. I will let you rest, and when the grass grows, I will increase your food.” The neighbor then said “Stay alive donkey until the grass grows.” So my sister told me “Did you realize now why I said this proverb to my son? The donkey will not live until the grass grows, and my son will not pass if he did not study.”


و بهالمثل منختم حلقتنا لليوم عن الأمثال الشعبية اللبنانية، بعد ما خبرتكن شوي عن المثل اللبناني، وخبرتكن قصة خمس أمثال. و حابة أعرف، في شي مثل من هالأمثال اللي قلتا بتعرفوه؟ و شو الأمثال اللي حابين تعرفو القصة وراها، أو لي وأيمتى منقولا؟ وأكيد منحب نسمع منكن أمثال شعبية جديدة ومهضومة بيقولا اللبناني. ولوقتا، منلتقى بحلقة جديدة من لانغويج وايف.

مع السلامة!

With this proverb, we conclude our episode for today about Lebanese popular proverbs after I have told you a little bit about the Lebanese proverb, and I told you the story behind five proverbs. I would love to know, is there any of these proverbs which I said that you know? And what are the proverbs which you would like to know the story behind them or why and where we say them? And surely, we would love to hear from you some new and funny popular proverbs which the Lebanese say. Until then, we shall meet in a new episode of Language Wave.


Comprehension Questions (try to answer the questions while speaking out loud to yourself and using full sentences in Lebanese-Arabic)

  1. What are proverbs used for?
  2. Why did Jiha insist that whoever bought his house must agree not to remove a nail in one of the walls of the house?
  3. What is the lesson behind the proverb “One bird in the hand, better than ten on the tree”?
  4. What is a situation in your life where you cloud use the proverb “He came to wear kohl but blinded himself instead”?
  5. When and why did Leen’s sister use the proverb “Stay alive donkey until the grass grows”?


Vocabulary Table

# Lebanese Arabic English Transliteration English Translation
1 الأمثال الشعبية Al-Amsel Al-Sha‘biyyeh Popular proverbs
2 فن شعبي Fann Sha‘beh  Folk art
3 يتوارثوا Yitwerasowa Inherit it
4 جيل Jeel Generation
5  خيالي Khayeleh fictional
6 العيلة Al-‘ayleh The family
7 المجتمع Al-Mojtama‘ The society
8 المبادئ Al-Mabede’ The Principles
9 مسمار Mismar Nail
10 يتطمن Yittaman Check up on
11 يلقط Yel’at Catches
12 ببؤبؤ Bo’bo’ Pupil
13 الكذب Al-Kizib Lying
14 الفلاح Al-Falleh The farmer
15 قصة Ossa story




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