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Minnan (S. Fujian) Proverbs!

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Minnan Dialect is closest to the ancient Chinese spoken 2,000 years ago, and these colourful Minnan proverbs are a window on the wit and wisdom of those who speak it!
(Adapted from “Chinese Proverbs in the Amoy Vernacular” China Review, March 1887.) Enjoy! (Check out #23 and #24, about Amoy Tigers!)

1. “Middle of the 5th month” Chhit géh poa, ah-à m chai sí. (Ducks don’t know they’re soon to be sacrificed to spirits. (Said of wicked people who have no idea that judgment is soon upon them)
2. “Though dead, the eyes won’t close” Sì liau bàk-chiu m goan khoe (The affair, though apparently forgotten, and over now, will turn up again to cause trouble)
3. “He’ll let people eat the flesh but won’t let them gnaw the bone” Bah, ho làng chiàh; kut, m ho lang khoè. (That man will let people speak ill of his friends, but only up to a certain extent)
4. “To spread the best shellfish on the top, and water the oysters well.” Pho’ biu thau, chìm chui (Tricks of the trade)
5. “A tortoise in the drain.” Am-knàng-ku (A man who rarely goes out of his house, a book worm, etc.)
6. “If 3 short men enter a city, they’re sure to create a disturbance.” Sa oé jíp sià, bò hoán
7. “In 3 years, the child should be as big as the mother.” Sa ni, chí bú tiù
(The interest and principal shall be equal)
8. “A mouse transfixed on a cow’s horn.” Niaú chhú tèng-jíp gu-kak (In a fix)
9. “If you don’t give credit, you can’t do business; if you do give credit, you’re ruined.” Bu sia, put seng tiam: sia-liaú, tiam put seng.
10. “To take shelter under another man’s umbrella.” Png tang-i-ho-sòu ng (To benefit at the expense or trouble of a man)
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11. “A blunt knife brings out the workman’s skill.” Tun to cchut tai chhiù
12. “When you’re a passenger on another man’s boat, you want the boat to go fast. When you’re interested in any project with a partner, you want him to succeed.” Che tang chun, ai tang chun chaú (Like our ‘all in the same boat’)
13. “To eat the bread of idleness.” Chiàh eng bì
14. “There is honour amongst gamblers, but all tradesmen are rogues.” Pòuh-kiaù lòng kun, boé-boe chat
15. “Too large for a beam, too small for a pillar.” Boe tsún fu, boe tsún thiaú (Of a man or thing, unsuitable for our purpose)
16. “Barren land absorbs much water.” Chhan yau sò chuí (A lean man eats much. Debts swallow up gains)
17. “What you earn in foreign parts you spend there.” Po-thau chiu, po thau eng.
18. “To bind up a girl’s feet just when she’s about to be married.” Beh ké, chiah pák kha (Of preparations begun late)
19. “After escaping from a highwayman, to meet with a tiger.” Chán chhàtgu-tiò (Out of the frying pan and into the fire)
20. “To strike the gong after the thief has gone off.” Chhàt khì chiah phah lo
21. “A handsome woman isn’t without some defect; an ugly one isn’t so in every respect.” Chhin-chí bo cháp-chung, khiap-sì bo ka-nug.
22. “To shut the stable door after the steed’s been stolen.” O-á-ki kek kui tong (Birds of a feather flock together)
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23. “If you lack the courage to enter the tiger’s lair, how can you expect to get the cubs?” Put kám jìp hò hiát, ian-leng tek hò chù. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained)
24. A tiger with a smiling face.” Chhió (A wolf in sheep’s clothing)
25. “To hit your own head with the hoe you’re carrying.” Kiák pe-put, kakí kong hiàh (The engineer hoist with his own petard: caught in one’s trap )
26. “To advance or retreat is equally difficult.” Chin-thè liòng lan (On the horns of a dilemma)
27. “Fresh or salt, he eats up all indifferently.” Tin kiàm Chiák bò kiam (All’s fish that comes to his net)
28. “Iron strikes iron. Diamond cuts diamond.” Thih kong thih.
29. “It’s by drinking one little drop after another that a man at last becomes drunk." Pòh pòh chiù Chiak lang oé chuì (It’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back)
30. “In one ear and out the other.” Chìt ki-kang jìp chìt ki-khang chhut
31. “If you’re waiting to get the rice, it takes a long time to get soft; if you’re waiting to get married, the girl’s a long time growing up.” Tán bì oh noà, pán bò (A watched pot never boils)
32. “He’s got ten trades, but nine of them he doesn’t know.” Sìp gé, kiù put seng (A jack of all trades, etc.)
33. “When the sun’s out, you should store up some provisions for rainy days.” Chhat jìt, tiòh chek ho lai niu (Make hay while the sun shines)
34. “To hit two at one stroke.” Chìt phah siang kìok (Kill 2 birds with 1 stone)
35. “The rice being brought by the chopsticks up to your lips, falls down after all.” Hgeh kaù chhuí khaù, chiah ka-láh (There’s many a slip between cup and lip)
36. “A man who does not know how to sail about complains of the river being narrow.” Bóe hiaù sài tsun hiam khoe oéh (Bad workmen blame their tools)
37. “When you go to a country you must follow its customs; when you enter a channel you must follow its windings.” Jìp hong sui siòk; Jìp kàng sui own (When in Rome, do as the Romans do)
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38. “To dive into the sea, to feel for a needle.” Hài bong chiam (To look for a needle in a haystack)
39. “Four eights are the same as thirty two.” Sí poch, sa cháp jì (Six of one and a half a dozen of the other)
40. “His heart is greater than the tyrant Bong’s." Sim kou khah toá ong Bòng
(He out-Herods Herod).
41. “To be born in “Soochow or Hangchow, and to die in Quánzhou, Fújiàn, is the height of good luck.” Siu tì So-Hàang jí chiu. Si ti Hokkien Choan-chiu.
42. “A good man kissed [struck] by lightning.” Hó sim, khit laic him. (Said of a man undeservedly injured)
43. “In buying and selling, one should be very particular; in entertaining, expense should not be thought of.” Boé boé sug hun sa Chhìa bo tun.
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Guide to Xiamen and Fujian Copyright 2006 by Dr. Bill
Keywords: Hokkien Fukien fu'chien fuchau chinchew chenchew changchow

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