Egyptian Proverbs

  •  مد رجليك على قد بساطك (JH 7)

(More common: على قد فراشك مد أجريك)

Stretch your legs to the extent of your carpet (sleeping rug).

(Know your limitations; do not think of yourself more than what you really are; do not live beyond your means) (IY 5)

– مدّ، يمِدّ  = to extend, to stretch

– مُدّة  = time period

– مادّة  = material

Note that the dual in رجليك  is only a so called “pseudo-dual” (used mainly for body parts) as it can be used for more than just two legs, eyes, etc. Also note that in most dialects the dual only appears on nouns and not on verbs or adjectives (in which case it agrees with the plural)

– قد  from قدر  = “amount, extend” , ق  pronounced as ء

قد اي؟  = How much?

هو قدي  = He is my age.

– بِساط  = rug, carpet

  • إن كان صاحبك عسل ما تلْحَسوش كله (JH 8)

If your friend is honey, don’t lick him all up.

– Note the Egyptian “ma – sh” negation

– ما تلْحَسوش  = Fuṣḥā لا تلحسه  (note the elongation of the last vowel “u”)

– لَحَس، يلْحَس  = to lick; to slap

  • السافه تربّي العداوة (JH 9)

Lending engenders enmity.

– سافة  is probably related to 

– سَوْف  = future participle

– سَوّف  = to delay, to postpone

– ربّى  = to raise, educate, teach

  • كثر التنخيس يعلّم الحمير التقميص (JH 9)

Much goading will teach donkeys to rear.

– نخَس  and نخّس  = to goad, to prick

– قمّص  = to kick with the heals

– مقموص  = sulking, upset

  • العاقل من غمزه والجاهل من رفصه (JH 9)

The wise (is instructed) with a wink, and the ignorant with a kick.

– رَفَص/رَفَس ، يرفُس  = “to kick”, رفسة/رفصة  = “a kick”

  • المقروص من التعبان يخاف من طرف الحبل (JH 11)

He who is bitten by a snake is afraid of an end of a rope.

(Once bitten twice shy)

– قرص، يقرُص  = to bite (for a snake), to sting (for a wasp), to pinch

– تعبان  =  Fuṣḥā ثُعْبان

  • عداوة العاقل ولا صحبة الجاهل (JH 11)

Rather the enmity of the wise than the friendship of the ignorant.

  • حب وواري واكره وداري (JH 12)

Love and show, hate and hide.

– Note: حب  is a form I verb in most dialects, but mostly form IV in Fuṣḥā: ّأحب

– وارى  = ?; more common: “ورى، يورّي” , e.g. “ورّيني”  = “show me” 

دارى، يداري  = to hide, to conceal

  • ايش ياخذ الريح من البلاط (JH 12)

What can the wind take from the stone-paving?

– ايش  = Fuṣḥā ماذا  (from اي شيء؟ )

– بلاط = tiles (stone-paving is rather رصيف)

  • المساواة قي الظلم عدل (JH 14)

Equality in injustice is justice.

  • إن رأيت بلد تعبد عجل حش واطعمه (JH 14)

If you see a town worshipping a calf, mow grass and feed him.

– عٍجل = calf

– حشّ، يحُش = to mow, to cut grass

– حشيش = grass, herbs, weed

  • التكرار يعلّم الحمار (JH 17)

Repetition will teach the donkey.

  • القفه اللي لها ودنين يشيلوها اثنين (JH 19)

The basket that has two handles can be carried by two.

(Used to encourage cooperation)

– قُفَّة، ج قُفَف = basket made out of palm stalks (see picture)


– اللي = Fuṣḥā الذي

– وِدْن، ج وِدان  = ear (from Fuṣḥā أُذُن ج آذان ); anything resembling an ear (like a handle in this case); note: singular is feminine

– شال، يشيل  = to carry, lift, bear; to remove

  • الحرامي الشاطر ما يسرقش من حارته (JH 19)

The clever thief does not steal from his own street.

شاطر  = Fuṣḥā ذكي  (intelligent), (original meaning: villain, scoundrel)

– حارة  = neighborhood; lane, alley

  • كشكار دايم ولا علامة مقطوعة (JH 19)

Bran constantly rather than fine flour seldom.

– كشكار  =  very coarse flour

– علامة = mark, sign, probably came to mean fine flour via an expression like “flour with distinction”

  • زي جمعية الاغربه اولها قاق واخرها قاق (JH 21)

Like an assembly of crows: It begins with a “Caw” and ends with a “Caw”.

(Said derisively of a meeting dispersing without arriving at any conclusion)

– زي  = Fuṣḥā مثل

– جَمْعِيَّة  = association, club

  • إن كان الكلام من فضة السكوت من ذهب (JH 22)

(More commonly: اذا كان الكلام من فضة،فالسكوت من ذهب)

If speech is silver, silence is gold.

  • الحاجة ام الاختراع (JH 22)

Necessity is the mother of invention.

– حاجة  = need, requirement; also: thing (instead of شي)

  • اللي يفتن لك يفتن عليك (JH 24)

He who chatters to you will chatter about you.

– فَتَن، يِفتِن = to badmouth, tell tales; to tell on

  • ابو جعران في بيته سلطان (JH 25)

The beetle in its hole is a sultan.

  • ان عشقت اعشق قمر وان سرقت اسرق جمل (JH 25)

If you love, love a moon, and if you steal, steal a camel.

(Do nothing by halves. In Egypt a beautiful girl is compared to the moon and the most valuable animal is a camel.)

  • البطن ما تجيبشي عدو (JH 26)

The womb does not bring forth an enemy.

– جاب، يجيب = to bring, from Fuṣḥā جاء ب “to come with”

– Note: The ma – sh negation can also be ma – shi (which goes back to the origin of the “-sh”: شيء , as in “not even a thing, a bit”, similar to French “pas” meaning “step” which has become a mean of negation now.)

  • اليد اللي ما تقدرش تعضها تبوسها 

The hand that you cannot bite kiss.

– يد  = pronounced īd (unlike Fuṣḥā yadd)

  • اللسان ترجمان القلب (JH 35)

The tongue is the interpreter of the heart.

– ترجُمان  = other word for مترجم

  • الكذب داء والصدق شفاء 

Falsehood is sickness and honesty health.

  • قطته جمل 

His cat is a camel.

(He is a show-off)

  • راس الكسلان بيت الشيطان (JH 44)

The head of the lazy is the house of the devil.

Note that it’s راس  and not رأس  as there are hardly any hamzas in dialects (except for when a qāf is pronounced like a hamza of course or for Fuṣḥā borrowings)

  • الكذب مالوش رجلين 

Falsehood has not legs.

– مالوش  = Fuṣḥā ليس له

  • جا يكَحّلها عماها 

He wanted to put on Mascara on her eyes and instead he made her blind.

– جا = pronounced “ga”, can also be “gih” (Fuṣḥā جاء , note that hamzas are mostly deleted in dialects.)

  • ما يمسح دمعتك الا إيدك (JH 80)

Nothing wipes your tears away but your own hand.

– ما… إلا  = nothing … but, only 

  • على باب الاطرش قد ما خبّط (JH 81)

At the door of a deaf man you may knock as long as you like.

– خبط  and خبّط = to knock, to hit, to strike

  • اتعلم الادب من قليل الادب (JH 81)

Learn politeness from the impolite.

  • سكينة الاهل مثلمة (JH 82)

The knife of relatives is blunt.

  • زي حية تحت تبن (JH 83)

Like a snake under the straw.

  • نايم في المية وخايف من المطرة (JH 88)

He sleeps in the water and he is afraid of the rain.

– المية، المطرة  = probably diminutives of ماء and مطر

  • لو كانت رايحة تمطر كانت غيمت (JH 89)

If it was going to rain, there would be clouds.

– رايحة  = active participle of راح، يروح  = to go

  • اللي كان يكون (JH 90)

What has been may be.

  • قرد يسليني ولا غزال يغمني (JH 92)

A monkey that amuses me rather than a gazelle that saddens me.

(Used to express that amiability in a wife is preferable to beauty.)

– سلّى، يسلّي  = to amuse, to entertain (someone)

– تسلية  = amusement, fun

– اِتْسلَّى، يتسلّى  = to enjoy oneself, have a good time

  • اللي ياكل العسل يصبر لقرص النحل (JH 93)

He who eats honey must expect the sting of the bees.

  • اسأل عن الجار قبل الدار (JH 108)

Ask about the neighbour before (taking) the house.

  • قالوا للكلاب دي رايحة تمطر فطير قالوا كانت ندعت جرايه (JH?)

They said to the dogs: “It is going to rain cakes.” They replied: “(If so) it would have drizzled barley-bread.”

(There is generally some indication of what is going to happen).

  • لا ظلام كالجهل (JH 116)

No darkness like ignorance.

Die größte Dunkelheit ist Unwissenheit.

  • اللي معاه القمر ما يباليش بالنجوم (JH 118)

He who has the moon cares not for the stars.

– بالى، يبالي  = to mind, to pay attention to 

  • اللي يعيش يشوف كثير واللي يمشي يشوف اكثر (JH 120)

Who lives sees, but who travels sees more.

– شاف، يشوف  = to see

  • زي الشمع تنور على الناس وتحرق روحها (JH 122)

Like a candle, giving light to others and consuming itself.

(Said of one who impoverishes himself in serving others)

– نوّر، ينوّر  = to shine upon, illuminate, give light

–  !نَوَّرْت  = expression used to mean “welcome” (lit.: you brought light to the country/neighborhood/house)

– منوّر  = gleaming, glowing (said especially to girls meaning something like “you look good today”)

– حرَق، يحرَق  = to burn, fire


JH = Joseph Hanki. Arabic Proverbs. New York: Hippocrene books. 1998

IY = Isaac Yetiv. 1,001 Proverbs from Tunisia. Washington, D.C: Three Continents Press, 1987