Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

SOME of you have written to tell me that proverbs are a very different thing from the aphorisms of Mark Twain that I praised last week, and that to drag the latter into conversation would be to show off insufferably. I have been pondering this while accompanying my husband on one of his 'conferences' in Spain. While the learned physicians gave themselves to sherry and the Aesculapian arts I sat in the shade and read Richard Ford.

Some of the proverbs he comes out with in Gatherings from Spain must have sounded old-fashioned even in the 1840s when he was writing. Some still make sense: Un ojo a la sarten y otro a la gata (One eye to the pan, the other to the cat), or perhaps: Al hijo y mulo para el culo (Children and donkeys both need smacked bottoms) - though I don't know whether the latter would get you into more trouble with animal-patters or with Esther Rantzen.

Others sound even more archaically gnomic, and probably appeal by their jingling rhyme and their quaintness: Pan, vino y ajo crudo hacen andar al mozo agudo (Bread, wine and raw garlic make a man go briskly), or Mas vale acial que fuerza de oficial (The acial is more use than the official's force). …

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