Proverbs and idioms are a key part of learning a language! Instead of saying directly what you mean, proverbs can help you paint a picture of it instead, and allow you to help the person you are talking to understand you better.
Common phrases can be used in the conversations you have with other people every day, in the TV shows and newspaper articles you watch and read, and even at work or in class. In order to fully understand a language, you must know all these phrases and sentences.
What better topic to paint a picture about than food? All of these proverbs have to do with food! Do not read this if you are hungry – it may only make you hungrier! Wait until you have eaten to go through this list.
1. An apple a day keeps the doctor away!
Many proverbs do not mean what they literally say, but in some cases, this proverb is used this way.
Especially for children who do not like to eat their fruits, parents can tell them “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” to convince them that they will not have to see any doctor if they eat their fruits.
In other situations, the speaker may mean this generally – in that, if you eat healthy foods and take care of yourself, you will not have any health problems or have to visit the doctor.
My sister only eats her fruits and vegetables if my mom reminds her that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
If you ask your doctor for some advice on how to stay healthy, they might make a joke and tell you that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
2. A hungry man is an angry man!
While this proverb specifically talks about a man, this actually applies to all people – women and children included. When someone is hungry, whether they are grown or not, they are likely to be angry.
When someone uses this proverb, they mean that someone who is hungry and has not had his needs met (whether it is specifically related to food or not) is more likely to be emotional.
People are only in their right mind and can make complex decisions if they are full and have their needs met.
When you are trying to have a meeting right before lunch, you are likely to get some people who will not pay attention or will give you pushback for trying to force them into a meeting by saying, “A hungry man is an angry man!”
When I was younger, I would never ask my mother whether I could go to my friend’s house if she had not yet eaten lunch or dinner, because I knew that she would always say no if she hadn’t eaten! A hungry man is an angry man!
3. Eat to live but do not live to eat!
Some people love eating so much that they make their entire existence about finding the most delicious food for them to have.
They wake up thinking about what they want to have for breakfast, and then they spend as much time as possible figuring out which restaurants are the most delicious, and making sure that they go there and eat the best dishes.
This is great for most people who love eating, but this proverb warns against people who might take this a step too far.
Instead of finding some “greater purpose” for their lives, such as educating younger people or working for the poor, they think that their purpose is to eat as much as possible.
If someone uses this proverb, it means that you should not put so much importance on eating. Instead, you should only eat enough to live, but you should not spend too much time thinking about food.
Once someone is overweight, they should think about eating to live, but not living to eat.
My friend Ted absolutely has to find the best restaurants in every city that he travels to, so he ends up doing more research about food than research about places to stay or things to do. His wife always gets frustrated with him, saying that he should think about eating to live, but not living to eat.
4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
If you are in a position to invest in something, or you want to take a chance, it is tempting to believe everything you hear. However, you never really know what is good and what will work, so that is a dangerous thing to do.
In cases like these, this proverb is good to keep in mind. It means that you should not put all your money in one investment if you are talking about investing or stocks.
If you are talking about a job, the proverb means that you should not think that everything will be perfect with that single job. You should instead look for several ways to make money.
This proverb comes from the idea that, in older times, people would buy groceries and bring them home in a basket.
If you bought eggs, you should not put them all in the same basket, because if you accidentally drop the basket or bump into something, the basket could fall on the floor and all your eggs would break.
Instead, you should be more conservative and put some eggs in multiple baskets, so that if one fails, you can still rely on the others to still be there.
When my sister came to me for investment advice, she was thinking about putting all her money in her friend’s start up. However, I knew that that would be foolish, and told her to split her money in many different stocks. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!” I said. Luckily, she listened to me, because her friend went bankrupt two years later.
Most people should think about getting a side job to bring in some income, because it is hard to know if or when you will be let go from your main job. If that happens, do not come back crying to me! I told you not to put all your eggs in one basket!
5. It’s no use crying over spilt milk!
When you see a child who has spilled something – such as their milk – you will likely see them crying about it as well. The classic image of a crying child is one that has the ice cream part of his ice cream cone on the ground.
When you are a child, crying like this is okay, because you do not understand much. However, when you are an adult, this is much less acceptable.
This proverb tells people not to cry over spilt milk – or not to cry (or wallow in sorrow, or stay on another negative emotion) over something that has already happened.
Since there is no way to change the past, what has happened, has happened. Instead, you should move on and try to fix the problem, or just forget it.
The company wants us to try to fix all the problems that we have had with our new product, but I honestly think that it’s no use crying over spilt milk! We should just move on and work on our next product.
I know Jim feels that he will never love again after the girl he was going to propose to broke up with him. But, as I keep telling him, it’s no use crying over spilt milk! We love and we learn.
6. One man’s meat is another man’s poison!
Someone that loves to eat meat could bring their friend to their favorite steak or BBQ restaurant – only to remember that their friend is vegetarian! Even if they look at the same dish, they will have very different perspectives on what it is.
One might think that the steak looks absolutely delicious and cannot wait to try it. However, the other may be utterly repulsed by it! In other words, what they think about that dish depends entirely on their personal situation.
Likewise, this proverb means that something that is delicious meat in one man’s eyes will be like poison in the other man’s eyes.
Ken was shocked to hear that there are people who do not like to drink bubble tea! However, he probably should have expected that because one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
When my father announced to our family that we would be taking a two week vacation to Japan, I was completely ecstatic and excited to go. However, my brothers looked like they could not care less about it – and might even prefer to stay home! I guess one man’s meat really is another man’s poison.
7. Too many cooks spoils the broth!
When people are working on an issue or problem, it sometimes is the case that more labor is better. If there are more people working on something, they are more likely to come up with a great solution.
However, it could also be the case that too many people trying to work together creates many more problems than it solves. Instead of coming to a conclusion quickly, it could result in a lot of deliberation and slow progress.
In addition, some people may think that the other people on the task force will solve the problem, and they will not take responsibility.
Or, it could be that too many people creates problems with communication and coordination, so that people who work together many not be up to date on the problem’s progress.
In this case, we can say that too many cooks spoils the broth. In other words, sometimes too many people trying to do something can ruin it. This is the case even if we have the best cooks in the world.
The basketball team clearly had the people with the most talent. However, they won fewer games than all the other teams! Looking back, it must have been that too many cooks spoils the broth, and all the superstars could not work well together.
Some big, successful companies such as Google have teams of only a dozen people, maximum. They call this the “two pizza principle”, that teams should be able to be fed with just two pizzas. This is because too many cooks spoils the broth, and larger teams are very difficult to manage.
8. We never miss water until the well runs dry!
When you have all the things you want, it is hard to appreciate everything. This is in part because some of the enjoyment you get out of something comes from the anticipation, or the time that you don’t have it but you are thinking about it.
However, it is very easy to take things for granted. Instead of appreciating something that you have while you have it – such as the love of your family members, your significant other, money, or a safe place to live – you think that you are entitled to these things.
It is only when you no longer have these things that you miss them. The next time that you hear this proverb, you know that someone does not appreciate what they have until they lose it.
Larry wished that he had appreciated his wife more when they had a good relationship. This is because ever since she decided to leave him, he had realized her worth. He never missed water until the well ran dry!
When Bart moved away from home to go to college, he found it very challenging to cook and clean for himself, especially since he had a large course load. It was only that he realized how much work his mother helped him with back home. He never missed water until the well ran dry!
9. Do not bite off more than you can chew!
Biting off more than you can chew means taking on more than you can handle. For example, it would be too much for someone to handle more than three or four projects at once.
Trying to complete any more than that is biting off more than you can chew. In other words, it means trying to do too much at once. If someone feels overwhelmed by all that they have to do, tell them not to bite off more than they can chew!
Before the semester started, I told my best friend Ruth not to bite off more than she could chew. However, she insisted, and decided to take six classes, accept a part time job, and was president of the dance club. Halfway through the semester, she was completely exhausted but she only had herself to blame.
It is good for companies to try many different projects at once, especially if they have the resources to do it. On the other hand, it is not wise to give any single employee to many things to do at once. Do not let individuals bite off more than they can chew!
10. Half a loaf is better than none!
If you are looking around your house for something good to eat, it is better to have half a loaf of bread than none at all.
Even if it does not fill you up completely, you can feel less hungry if you have something to eat rather than nothing. Likewise, in many situations, it is better to have something than nothing, even if that means you did not finish.
Our boss will get mad at you if you have not finished your project by the deadline, but at least you can show him the progress you have made. Half a loaf is better than none!
If you have some things left to do at the end of the day, it could be better to just start on it rather than leave it all for tomorrow. After all, half a loaf is better than none!
11. A watched pot never boils!
This is a very common proverb. It can be used for parents or bosses who want to know everything about something, rather than checking in every once in a while.
It means that if you keep paying attention to something and hoping that it will happen, it will never happen!
Instead, if you set it aside and come check back on it later, it will happen. This is likely because watching something too closely means that you miss big developments.
As a teacher, I tell my overeager parents that a watched pot never boils. After all, constantly having their parents hovering over them will make any child nervous!
Nancy was surprised to find that the police officers made almost all their progress on solving the case when she was not bothering them about it. She finally learned that it takes up the officers’ time if she kept asking questions, and that a watched pot never boils!
12. Jump from the frying pan into the fire!
If you are already in the frying pan, that means there is heat on you – or pressure to perform. If you go from a stressful situation to an environmental that is even more stressful – the fire – you go from a bad situation to a worse one.
Our working group avoided jumping from the frying pan into the fire when we decided to abandon the project that was not going well instead of spending more valuable time and resources to save it.
His parents thought that sending Justin to live with his grandparents during the week would help reduce his stress in school. However, his grandparents put even more pressure on him to get great grades and become captain of the basketball and debate teams – asking him to jump from the frying pan into the fire!
13. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!
If you are able to get your favorite flavor of cake and eat it, you are getting the best of both worlds. Everything is going right for you.
However, this is almost impossible, so this proverb warns that you cannot have everything that you want. Instead, only some things can work right for you, and you will have to choose whether you want one or the other – but not both.
I know you want a great salary and have a lot of time to travel, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too! You will have to choose one or the other.
Gary asked his parents to pay for his college tuition and give him a monthly allowance to use while studying, but his parents refused to give both. They made him choose one to teach him that he could not have his cake and eat it too.
14. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink!
If you have a horse, you can only ask it to do so much. For example, you can lead it to a pond or lake, but you cannot force it to take a drink.
So, this proverb warns that you can only do so much in influencing others, and there is a limit to what you can do. You cannot force someone to do something if they have no desire to do it.
Beth’s parents wanted her to move back to their hometown to get a Master’s degree, but she did not want to at all. They learned that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
The government wanted people to smoke less, so they raised the taxes on all cigarettes. Surprisingly, people were willing to just pay more the cigarettes and only decreased their smoking by about 2%, showing the government officials that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
15. Life is just a bowl of cherries!
If something is going great, and the world is perfect, you can say that “Life is just a bowl of cherries” to show you are satisfied.
Damian got a great grade on his tests and received a scholarship for college, so his life is just a bowl of cherries right now.
Frank’s wife just found out that she is pregnant, and he got a huge raise at his work, so his life is just a bowl of cherries right now.
16. Bitter pills may have blessed effects!
If you take a bitter pill – or bad-tasting medicine – it could actually have a great effect on your illness. In other words, it may take something difficult or negative to have a nice effect. Without the bitter pill or hard work, you will not be cured or get great results.
The only thing that keeps Mattie from quitting her job is her huge paycheck – bitter pills may have blessed effects!
It may take a long time to get started, but owning your own company can give you flexibility and a higher income. All your hard work is just bitter pills that may have blessed effects.
17. Bread always falls buttered-side down!
If you feel that everything seems to go badly when you need it to go right, you can compare life to bread. If you drop the bread, it will always fall buttered-side down, meaning that things that can go wrong will go wrong.
In the business of theater and movie making, bread always falls buttered side down so you always have to be prepared and have a backup plan.
When you travel independently without a tour group, you can expect bread to always fall buttered side down. So, it is better to be prepared and have more cash on hand than you expect to need!
18. Fine words butter no parsnips!
If you meet someone who always says what other people want to hear but can never deliver on what they promise, you can scold them by saying, “Fine words butter no parsnips!”
This means that fine words – such as empty promises and flattering compliments – cannot actually help solve any problems. If you use this proverb, you are asking the person to take action and stop only talking about something.
It was nice to hear all the benefits that our boss promised were coming, such as a new break room with comfortable couches. However, fine words butter no parsnips and we had no seen any progress on these promises.
Sandra spent most of her time in the office talking to her coworkers, but she was passed over for the promotion because fine words butter no parsnips – Laura worked much harder than she did.
19. Good wine needs no bush!
If you have a good product, you will not need much promotion for people to fall in love with it. if you have good wine, you will not need a bush to attract attention to it.
Hillary thought that she would need to spend thousands of pounds marketing and advertising her new line of dresses, but it turns out most of her new customers were referred from existing customers who loved the dresses they bought from her! Good wine needs no bush.
Some people believe that good wine needs no bush, but then are confused when they try to sell a product that no one has heard about! Even great products need attention or else no one will know to look for them.
20. He who will steal an egg will steal an ox!
If you do some small bad thing, such as stealing an egg from someone, it is much more likely that you will do something bigger and worse in the future. If you catch someone doing something bad, you need to keep an extra eye on them.
After all, he who will steal an egg will steal an ox! If someone is willing to do small bad things, they will likely be willing to do much more significant bad things.
When children are young, it is important to teach them not to steal or cheat, because he who will steal an egg will steal an ox.
At the beginning of the school year, it is important for teachers to establish high expectations for their students so that they will work hard during the year. If they don’t, the children who will steal an egg will steal an ox.
21. Honey catches more flies than vinegar!
If you want someone else to do something for you, it is much more effective to use something sweet – honey, which represents compliments and politeness – than it is to use something sour – like threats.
This proverb encourages you to be sweet rather than sour when dealing with other people.
James found out that honey catches more flies than vinegar when he tried to talk the school principle into letting him bend the graduation requirements.
Those who learn early in their lives that honey catches more flies than vinegar are more likely to be successful in their career.
22. Hunger is the best spice!
When you are hungry, everything tastes good.
Because of this, the proverb hunger is the best spice means that you often think that things you eat when you are hungry taste better, simply because of your empty stomach. This does not mean they actually taste better to someone who is not as hungry.
Hunger is the best spice, so the sandwich that Richard remembered that was absolutely delicious turned out to be only okay when he ate it the second time.
Westley knew that hunger is the best spice, so he always waited until he was very hungry to eat vegetables and healthy foods he normally did not like.
23. Kill not the goose that laid the golden egg!
If you have a goose that lays golden eggs, some people may get greedy. Instead of waiting for it to lay one egg a day, they may try to kill the goose to open it up and take the golden eggs inside it.
This is a great idea – until they discover that there are no golden eggs in a dead goose. So, this proverb means that you should be patient, and value the source of good things without trying to get greedy.
It is tempting to sell your stocks when they rise in value, but kill not the goose that laid the golden egg! Waiting to sell may give you even more profits.
Kill not the goose that laid the golden egg! Treat your parents well because they are some of the only people in the world that will help you in times of need.
24. Never fall out with your bread and butter!
The bread and butter of something – when talking about a figurative thing – is the foundation of it. For an internet company, the bread and butter may be their website. For a taxi company, it may be their cars and drivers.
If you fall out with your bread and butter, that means that you no longer have a relationship with the people and things that are the core of your business or life. This will leave you with nothing.
This proverb warns you to instead keep them happy and not to “fall out” – or get into a big, unresolved conflict – with them.
Never fall out with your bread and butter. If your employees ask for a raise, do not be afraid to give it to them if they deserve it.
Collin found out the hard way that he should never fall out with his bread and butter when his most trusted secretary quit and left him completely confused about his schedule and responsibilities.
25. Same meat, different gravy!
If you order some meat at a restaurant, and the waiter brings out something that you do not like, you can ask them to fix it.However, if the second time, the waiter simply brings out the same meat with a new gravy (a sauce) on it, you will be madder than before.
This is because, even though the second meat has a different appearance from the first, it is essentially the same thing. Same meat, different gravy refers to something that is the same thing, just appearing different.
Jake tried to turn in an essay that he wrote in high school for his college class, but his professor somehow knew it was the same meat, different gravy.
Sometimes it is okay to be the same meat, different gravy if it adds some variety into the mix.
26. The only free cheese is in the mouse trap!
If you are a mouse looking for cheese, the only place that you will be able to get it without much work (free) is in a mouse trap. In other words, this proverb means that the only free things you get have a price attached to them, even if it is not a monetary price.
Everyone is looking to get rich quick, but the only free cheese is in the mouse trap!
If someone gives you an offer that sounds too amazing to be true, you should be very careful about it. The only free cheese is in the mouse trap!
27. There is no such thing as a free lunch!
Similar to the fact that there is no free cheese for mice except in the mouse trap, this proverb warns that there is no such thing as a truly free lunch.
While you might not have to pay for the lunch, you will have to pay something – whether that is in favors for someone down the line or something else, such as your time. You always have to give up something.
Andre was a fool for believing that he could go to the free luncheon and not spend money, because all the people there were trying to sell him something. He finally learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch!
There is no such thing as a free lunch! That is why it may cost half the price of a regular hotel to stay at a Disney resort, but you have to attend presentation pitches for all kinds of products.
28. The proof is in the pudding!
If the proof is in the pudding, you will not be able to figure out the problem or get the proof for something unless you eat the pudding. You will need to actually do or try something to know whether it is actually good or if it works.
There is no way to know if a tutor really helps you out unless you have a trial lesson with them! Since the proof is in the pudding, it is best to just try out a class.
When police try to gather evidence to help solve a case, the proof is in the pudding. They have to talk to witnesses, examine the crime scene, and do research to piece together the clues.
29. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!
A gander is a male goose. If something is good enough for the goose (the female animal), then it is good enough for the gander (the male animal). In other words, this proverb means that something that is good enough for someone else is good enough for you.
While this is not the most ideal living situation, it is how many locals live. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!
Bill’s younger brother is whining that he does not have a cell phone of his own. But at that age, Bill didn’t either! What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – he should stop whining!
30. You can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs!
You can only make an omelet with eggs – usually more than one. To get them, you will have to break those eggs, which is a metaphor for giving something up or making a sacrifice.
However, in order to get the good thing, the omelet, you must make a sacrifice and break the eggs!
If you want to be rich, you will have to work hard and be smart with your money. You can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs!
Janice makes her great grades on her tests seem effortless, but she actually spends all her free time studying and testing herself. Did you really think she was naturally that talented? No one can make an omelet without breaking the eggs!