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Bruegel-illustrated Dutch Proverbs

Here are 146 proverbs in all.

The first nine are illustrated in the section of Pieter Bruegel's painting "Netherlandish Proverbs", from the top left to the right, and bottom left to the right. First there is a rather literal translation of the Dutch proverb, then an explanation, and in some cases there are English equivalent.

The rest are from added sources, some of them on-line.

PIETER BREUGEL. PROVERBS. DETAIL, connected with Dutch proverbs
Pieter Breugel. Netherlandish Proverbs, with peasant scenes illustrating over 100 proverbs. 1559. Detail.

To carry the day out in baskets. ▻ To waste one's time.

To hold a candle to the devil. ▻ To flatter and make friends.

To confess to the devil. ▻ To reveal secrets to one's enemy.

The pig is stabbed through the belly. ▻ What is done cannot be undone.

One winds on the distaff what the other spins. ▻ Both spread gossip.

She puts the blue cloak on her husband. ▻ She deceives him.

To cast roses before swine. ▻ To waste effort on the unworthy.

One shears sheep, the other shears pigs. ▻ One has all the advantages, the other none.

To fill the well after the calf has drowned. ▻ To take action only after a disaster.

Other Breugel-illustrated Proverbs

An honest man's word is his bond.

Beggars fear no rebellion.

Better poor with honour than rich with shame.

Big fish eat little fish.

Borrowing brings care.

Buying a cat in a bag. ▻ Buying something that is not as useful as you thought it was.

Casting the iron while it is hot. ▻ Seize your opportunity. Cf. Make hay while the sun shines; strike while the iron is hot.

Desire is the father of thought. ▻ What you think is inspired by desire.

Even the best horse may stumble once.

He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again. ▻ Once something is done it cannot be undone.

High trees catch a lot of wind.

Hollow barrels sound loudest. ▻ The louder a person shouts, the less he knows.

Horse droppings are not figs. ▻ Do not be fooled by appearances.

If I am not meant to be their keeper, I will let geese be geese. ▻ Do not interfere in matters that are not your concern.

If it rains on the great, it drips on the little people.

If the sky comes down, we'll all be wearing a blue cap<

If you don't have a horse, use a donkey.

It is better to turn around halfway, then to get lost completely. ▻ It is better to correct ones mistakes than to persevere stubbornly.

It is not only cooks that wear long knives. ▻ Don't jump to conclusions on the basis of appearances. Cf. Don't judge a book by its cover.

Kicking in an open door. ▻ Stating the obvious.

Leave at least one egg in the nest. ▻ Always have something in reserve.

Not wrapping it in cloth. ▻ Saying it exactly like it is, using no euphemisms.

One swallow doesn't make summer. ▻ One needs more than one indication to draw a conclusion.

Prudence is the mother of the china cabinet. Cf. Look before you leap; Safety first.

Rowing with the oars you have got. ▻ Making do with the means available to you."

Shear them but do not skin them. ▻ Do not press your advantage too far.

Standing with the mouth full of teeth. ▻ Dumbfounded.

The best steersmen are ashore.

The devil always shits on the biggest pile. ▻ Rich people always get the most.

The sunrise hour has gold in it is mouth.

There hangs the knife. ▻ To issue a challenge.

There is more in it than an empty herring. ▻ There is more to it than meets the eye.

Think before acting and while acting still think.

Think before you begin. ▻ Think before you act. Cf. Look before you leap.

To be pissing against the moon. ▻ To waste one's time on a futile endeavour.

To bell the cat. ▻ To be indiscreet about plans that should be secret.

To carry fire in one hand and water in the other. ▻ To be two-faced and to stir up trouble.

To catch fish without a net. ▻ To profit from the work of others.

To find the dog in the jar. ▻ "Being too late for your treat.

To find the dog in the pot. ▻ To arrive too late to prevent trouble.

To fish behind the net. ▻ To miss an opportunity.

To hold an eel by the tail. ▻ To undertake a difficult task.

To put a spoke in someone's wheel. ▻ To put up an obstacle, to destroy someone's plans.

To take the hen's egg and let the goose's egg go. ▻ To make a bad decision.

What is the good of a beautiful plate when there is nothing on it?. ▻ Beauty does not make up for substance.

Where the gate is open the pigs will run into the corn. ▻ Disaster ensues from carelessness.

While doing one learns. ▻ You learn by practice.

Who does well, meets goodwill. ▻ Who does good things to others, will receive good things in return.

Who knows why geese go barefoot?. ▻ There is a reason for everything, though it may not be obvious.

Wild bears prefer each other's company. ▻ Peers get along better with each other than with outsiders.

You need to watch further than the length of your nose. ▻ You need to take a look at the problem carefully, you need to search the cause of the problem, etc.


62 Dutch Proverbs in Dutch and English

Achter het net vissen.
"To fish behind the net." To be too late for having success, doing things without result.

Al te goed is buurmans gek.
"All too good is neighbor's fool." If you are always helping everyone, someone will abuse it.

Alle baat helpt.
"All benefit helps" or "All profit helps." Every little helps.

Als een slak op een teerton.

"Like a snail on a barrel of tar." Slow indeed.

Beter één vogel in de hand dan tien in de lucht.
"Better one bird in the hand than ten in the sky."

Beter een half ei dan een lege dop.

It's better to have half an egg than its scale.

Bezint eer gij begint!

"Collect your wits before beginning." or "Consider well before you begin something". Look before you leap. (Who acts blindly, without any foresight, will probably suffer for his or her rashness.)

Bitter in de mond maakt het hart gezond.

"Bitter in the mouth makes the heart healthy." What is good for you may not taste like that.

De hond de jas voorhouden.
"To hold your jacket in front of the dog." Giving someone false hope to something unreachable.

De kost gaat voor de baat uit.
"Cost goes before the profit." You could have to invest time, effort and money before you the good results manifest.

De molen gaat niet om met wind die voorbij is.

"The windmill doesn't care for the wind that's gone past."

De praktijk zal het uitwijzen.

Practice will prove (show) it.

De rijkdom kan niet lange staan, hij groeit en krimpt gelijk de maan.

Wealth cannot stay long; it waxes and wanes like the moon.

De rook van het vaderland is aangenamer dan een vreemd vuur.
"The smoke of one's homeland is more pleasant than a strange fire." Dry bread at home is better than roast meat abroad."

De uitkomst zal het leren.
"The outcome will tell." The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

De wal zal het schip keren.
"The shore will turn the ship." Ongoing feedback is good.

Denk aleer gij doende zijt en doende denk dan nog.
"Think before acting and while acting still think." Be all-round circumspect so that things to go well.

Drink zonder zorgen, de kater komt morgen.

"Drink without sorrow; the hang-over comes only tomorrow."

Een ezel stoot zich geen twee maal aan dezelfde steen.
"A donkey does not bump into the same stone twice." Avoid making the same mistake twice.

Een haastig man moet op geen ezel rijden.

A man in a hurry shouldn't ride a donkey.

Een mens zijn zin is een mens zijn leven.
"A man with sense is a man alive."

Er schuilt een adder in 't gras.
"There is a viper in the grass." (Cf. Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers creep.)

Geen geld, geen Zwitsers.
"No money, no Swiss [around]."

Goed voorgaan doet goed volgen.
"A good example brings a good following." Cf. Lead by example.

Haastige spoed is zelden goed.
"Hasty speed is rarely good."

Het hemd is nader dan de rok.

"A vest is closer than a dress- coat."

Het is goed, twee pijlen op zijn boog te hebben.
"It's good to have two arrows to one's bow." Cf. Good riding at two anchors, men have told, for if the one fails, the other may hold.

Het kind met het badwater weggooien.

"To throw away the child with the bath water." Don't dispense with the good along with the bad.

Het leven gaat niet altijd over rozen.
"Life is not always about roses." Life is not always easy, life is not always a bed of roses.

Het op de klompen kunnen aanvoelen.
"Being able to feel it though the wooden shoes." It is obvious.

Het zijn niet alleen koks die lange messen dragen."

"It is not only cooks that wear long knives." Don't judge a book by its cover.

Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.

"High trees catch much wind."

Iets op je lever hebben.
"Having something on your liver." Having done something bad that could get you into trouble.

Is de hemel al te blauw, spoedig wordt hij dan weer grauw.

"If the sky is all to blue, it soon will turn to grey again." Good luck may run out at last.

Jantje-durft-niet doet zelden goede zaken.

"Johnny-dare-not seldom does good things."

Knollen/Appelen voor citroenen verkopen.
"Sell beets/apples as lemons." Presenting something as something else which is more valuable.

Lekker is slechts een vinger lang.

"Tasty is just one finger long." Good things may not last long.

Met andermans veren pronken.
"Showing off with another's feathers." Presenting someone else's accomplishments as one's own. Compare: Borrowed plumage.

Met de handen in het haar zitten.
"Sitting with the hands in the hair." Not knowing a way out of a problem.

Neem nooit teveel hooi op je vork.

Don't take too much hay on your pitchfork. Compare: Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Niemand ooit zo fijn iets spon, of het kwam aan het licht der zon.

"None can make a fabric so fine that it won't be exposed to the sun." Even the biggest lie won't stick.

Niet geschoten is altijd mis. "Not having shot is always a miss.

Niet te veel hooi op de vork nemen.
"Don't take too much on the hayfork." (Fit loads are less troublesome to deal with.

Ondank is 's werelds loon. "Ingratitude is the reward of the world."

Oost west, thuis best.
"East West, home best."Home sweet home.

Potje breken, potje betalen.
"Break a pot, pay for a pot." You are to pay for the damage you have caused.

Roeien met de riemen die je hebt.
"Rowing with the oars you have got." Making do with the means available to you.

Schijn bedriegt. "Appearances deceive." Understanding: Things are not always as they seem to be.

Soort zoekt soort.
"Kind seeks out kind." Birds of a feather flock together.

Stevig in het zadel zitten.
"Sitting securely in the saddle." "Having a high and much secure position.

Van niets komt niets. "From nothing comes nothing.

Van twee kwalen moet men de ergste mijden.
"From two deseases one should avoid the worst." Cf. Of two evils choose the least. (If you are forced to choose between two options, both of which are undesirable, choose the one that is less undesirable.)

Van uitstel komt afstel.

"From delay comes cancellation."

Vertrouwen komt te voet en vertrekt te paard.
"Trust arrives on foot and departs on horseback." Building trust usually takes time, but losing it may happen quickly.

Voorkomen is beter dan genezen.
"To prevent is better than to cure."

Voorzichtigheid is de moeder van de porseleinkast.
"Prudence is the mother of the china cabinet."

Vroeg begonnen, veel gewonnen.

"Early begun, well won." An early start makes profit.

Waar de dijk het laagst is, loop het eerst het water over.

"Where the dyke is lowest, water runs over it first." Be alert to the weakest point or weakest link in a chain.

Wie dan leeft, wie dan zorgt.
"Who lives then, worries [grieves] then." Don't cross your bridges until you reach them. Don't sorrow in advance [in this case].

Wie de schoen past, trekke hem aan.
"Let the one the shoe fits, put it on." An appeal to take responsibility for ones actions. If the shoe (cap) fits, wear it.

Wie naar de hemel spuwt, spuwt in zijn eigen aangezicht.

"He who spits toward the sky, spits in his own face." Consider outcomes.

Wie zijn neus schendt, schendt zijn aangezicht.
"He who hurts his nose, hurts his face." Consider the wider connections and possible ramifications first.

Zeker is zeker.
"Certainty is certainty." Sure is sure. Distrust is the mother of safety. (Trust no one except yourself, and don't trust yourself entirely either; Trust, but verify."


Dutch proverbs, Literature  

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Proverbs in English, explained and illustrated, on an excellent page:

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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