Turkish Proverbs

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Proverbs and idioms are something that fascinate me to no end. The sayings of a language contain much more information than a cursory glance would suggest, and really provide a handle in which to explore the underlying culture and beliefs of a society. In English proverbs and idioms seem almost regulated to a back burner of as a novelty or cliche; in Turkish, however, idioms are a major part of every day conversation and carry significant weight and wisdom.

So, without further ado, here is a quick list of some great Turkish proverbs I have tried my best to remember over the last three months:

Memleketin doğduğun yer değil, doyduğun yerdir.
“Your home isn’t where you are born, but where you eat to satisfaction.” A coworkers wife told me this last night and said it should become my slogan (which could be easy enough judging by how much I eat in Turkey). Originally being from Ankara, she said, it has already become hers too.

Ağaç yaş iken eğilir.
“A living tree bends.” I’m sure this saying has many layers of meaning, but a different coworker taught it to me in the context of education. Specifically, children should be taught when they are young while their minds are still lithe.

Kargaya yavrusu kuzgun görünür.
“To the crow his children seem like ravens.” Basically, everyone has the tendency to spoil their children and wish for them to be more than they are.

İmamın abdest suyu.
“The imam’s ablution water.” Praying five times a day is a central part of Islamic culture, and each prayer is necessarily preceded by performing ablutions. This saying pokes fun at overly zealous imams who perhaps use too much water while cleansing themselves. It’s used in contexts of food, such as when a soup is too watery and doesn’t really have much taste.

Köprüyü geçene kadar ayıya dayı diyeceksin.
“Call the bear uncle until you cross the bridge.” This is probably my favorite saying that I know, because of its wide range of applicable use, the interior rhyming, and the mental image to brings to mind for me – who doesn’t have fun picturing calling a bear uncle? Anyway, the general meaning is that you should do your best to placate the ‘bear’ in your life until you’ve crossed whatever hurdles are facing you. So, for example, if you have a horrible boss you should kiss-up and treat them as an uncle until you cross the bridge and you can truly speak your mind.

Dağ dağı kavuşmaz, insan insana kavuşlar.
“Mountains don’t reunite with each other, people do.” Honestly, I don’t entirely remember what context this proverb is used in. I think it relates to the idea that across all mountains and all barriers people are people, and we can always join together.

7 thoughts on “Turkish Proverbs”

  1. If I had to pick one to represent myself, it would be the first one. I always feel the most welcome in a home when I’m well-fed. I think this proverb is better than “home is where the heart is”. Then again, is that really a proverb…who knows.

    Great post!

    1. I know exactly how you mean. Nothing says home like a well cooked meal. I’m glad you liked the post so much, thanks, Jen!

  2. I stand corrected. This one was my favorite: “Memleketin doğduğun yer değil, doyduğun yerdir./Your home isn’t where you are born, but where you eat to satisfaction.” Nom nom nom nom nom nom. Guess my home would be inside a KFC Sunday Bucket of chicken.

    Can’t wait for you to post more proverbs!

    1. A KFC bucket? Not a Taco Bell burrito? Shameful… I’m collecting more proverbs as we speak, though! I think I’ve got two new ones already since this post. Yay!

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