Arabic Language Blog

Egyptian Proverbs (2) أمثال مصرية Posted by on Aug 19, 2011 in Arabic Language, Culture, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

         Arabic proverbs reflect the beauty of the Arabic Language and the wisdom of the Arabs and the richness of their culture. In Egypt, these proverbs are part of everyone’s daily routine. There is no one single situation that would not have the perfect proverb tailored for it. Just for the sake of fun, I am going to share some of these famous proverbs. If you are living in Egypt, you will probably recognize them right away, but if you live outside Egypt, most likely you will have a smile on your face. These proverbs are in the Egyptian dialect. 

يصوم يصوم و يفطر على بصلة

/ Yessoom, yessoom wi yeftar a’la basalah /

Literal translation: After fasting for so long, he feasts on an onion.

Hidden meaning: Said when someone’s hard work is not paid or not successful.

Applicability: Expression of disappointment at an unexpectedly weak response!

العقل زينة   

/ Al-a’ql zeenah /

Literal translation: Having a brain makes a person look good.

Hidden meaning: Wisdom is beautiful; foolishness is ugly!

Applicability:  Said to praise a wise man/woman.

السلف تلف و الرد خسارة    

/ Assalaf talaf wi ar’radd khossarah /

Literal translation: Borrowing is bad, and paying back is a loss.

Hidden meaning: Borrowing is not preferable.

Applicability: Said as an advice given to discourage borrowing

ابعد حبة تزيد محبة    

/ ib’id habbah, tizeed mahabbah /

Literal translation: Go away for a while and you’ll be loved more.

Hidden meaning: The far-away friend is loved more.

Applicability: Comment on somebody’s love for a far-away friend

الكذب مالوش رجلين  

/ Al-kath’ib maloosh regleen /

Literal translation: lying has no legs.

Hidden meaning: Lies will be discovered.

Applicability:  Said to comment on the fate of a liar.

الطيور على أشكالها تقع   

/ Attoyoor ala ashkaliha taqa’a /

Literal translation: Birds of all kinds will end up landing.

Hidden meaning: Don’t be fooled by appearance.

Applicability:  Same as the English saying; “Birds of a feather flock together.”

القرش الأبيض ينفع في اليوم الأسود    

/ Al-qirsh Al-abyad yanfa’ fi al-yawm al-aswad. /

Literal translation: A white piaster will be of benefit on a black day.

Hidden meaning: You never know when savings might be needed.

Applicability: Every penny counts!

المركب اللى فيها ريسين تغرق   

/ El-markib elli feeha rayseen teghra’q /

Literal translation: A boat with two captains will sink.

Hidden meaning: You can’t have two leaders for a group.

Applicability: Same as the English saying; “Too many cooks spoil the soup.”

 عصفور فى اليد أحسن من عشرة على الشجرة     

/ ‘Osfooron fi al-yadd ahsan min asharah ala ash’agarah. /

Literal translation: A bird in hand is better than ten on a tree.

Hidden meaning: Don’t give up what you have for what is promised.

Applicability: Said as an advice for people to be careful or not to be selfish.

ابن الوز عوام    

/ ibn el-wizz awaam. /

Literal translation: The goose’s (or swan’s) son is a good swimmer.

Hidden meaning: Like father like son (in a good sense or as a praise).

Applicability: said when a son is as gifted as his father in a certain aspect.

 * This is my second post on Egyptian Proverbs. To view the first post click this link:


To listen to these proverbs in Egyptian Arabic, visit our Youtube Arabic Channel at 


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Peace  سلام  / Salam/

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About the Author: Fisal

Well, I was born near the city of Rasheed or Rosetta, Egypt. Yes, the city where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It is a small city on the north of Egypt where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I am a Teacher of EFL.


  1. Ashraf Elsayyad:

    I have a suggestion that can be the English word for ابن الوز عوام: Sharks are born swimming.