Yiddish proverbs (and some insults)

To continue with the topic of my earlier post about Shakespearean insults, my girlfriend came across this book at a second hand book stall in Berlin:

It contains many wonderful proverbs and sayings (all in transliterated Yiddish too!), which range from the funny (“Even a shelled egg won’t leap into your mouth”) to the accurate (“When two say you’re drunk, it’s time to go to bed”) to the self-loathing and self-critical (“A Jew beats you up and shouts, “Help!”) to the insulting (“May you swallow an umbrella and have it open up inside you!”) and many others. Here is a list of my favourites:

Not the mouse is the thief, but the mouse’s hole.

A guest is like the rain; when he persists he is a nuisance.

A great assembly, and not a man in it!

A good man indeed; but his vicious dog won’t let you near him.

Two at the feast of the chicken: me and the chicken.

Even a cat can cross your plans.

Even a cat may look at a king.

The biggest ball of twine unwinds.

Man is stronger than iron and weaker than a fly.

A convert is no Jew and no Gentile.

When a fool goes to the baths, he forgets to wash his face.

So many Hamans but only one Purim.

A fair world, a radiant world – but, oh, for whom?

The shlemiehl lands on his back and bruises his nose.

A lock is meant only for honest men.

Your health comes first – you can always hang yourself later.

Right down to the brink of the grave, a man must still hope and be brave.

All brides are beautiful, all the dead are holy.

Even a shelled egg won’t leap into your mouth.

‘Thou hast chosen us from among the nations’ – why did You have to pick on the Jews?

If a fool holds a cow by the horn – a clever man can milk her.

When a Jew can’t be a cobbler, he dreams of being a professor.

When a poor man gets to eat a chicken, one of them is sick.

When the guest coughs, he wants a spoon.

The girl who can’t dance says the band can’t play.

He that is fated to drown will drown – in a spoonful of water.

If God were living on Earth, people would break his windows.

If I try to be like him, who will be like me?

If it’s the father-in-law you wed, a grizzly bear will share your bed.

If you can’t get up, get down; if you can’t get across, get across.

He that lies on the ground cannot fall.

Look for fancy bread and you lose the plain.

When two say you’re drunk, it’s time to go to bed.

While you live you dare not speak; when you die, you cannot.

The wise man lays plans, but so does the fool.

The best cobbler of all the tailors is Yonkel the baker.

Truth never dies, but lives a wretched life.

A Jew beats you up and shouts, “Help!”

Eggs may be smarter than hens, but soon begin to smell.

The heart is half a prophet.

The crabapple floats on top.

Along with breaking the commandment not to steal, he stole the bible.

He has as much money as a Jew has pigs.

He is wondering if a flea has a navel.

He is looking for a notch on the saw.

One chops the wood, the other does the grunting.

Tell the truth and you ask for a beating.

Don’t sell the skin off a bear that’s still in the woods.

One does not live off joy, nor die off sorrow.

Ten waters will not cleanse you of Jewish talk.

Never mind my health, but where am I going to get potatoes?

Better with a hometown thief than an out-of-town rabbi.

Gold glitters in the mud.

God will provide – if only God will provide until he provides.

Love me a little, but love me long.

If I dealt in candles, the sun wouldn’t set.

Every Jew has his own code of law (and his own brand of madness).

Love is like butter, it goes well with bread.

You can batter down walls with him.

It’s good to feast with your fellow, but not from one plate.

It is easy to poke the fire with another’s hands.

No great sage and no small fool.

Ask no questions, it’s a story.

Pearls around the neck – stones around the heart.

Send your ears into the street.

Sleep faster, we need the pillows.

Give me a Jew without a beard rather than a beard without a Jew.

Worries go down better with soup than without.

If you have the bread, you can always find the knife.

The shlemiehl kills a rooster – still it hops; he winds up a clock – at once it stops.

If the horse had anything to say, he would speak up.

If grandma has whiskers, she’d be granpa.

If praying did any good, they’d be hiring men to pray.

Laugh and everybody sees you, cry and you cry unseen.

Words should be weighed and not counted.

What’s new at sea? They’re catching fish.


May you swallow an umbrella and have it open up inside you!

He should be transformed into a chandelier, to hang by day and to burn by night.

All his teeth should fall out except one to make him suffer.


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