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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Turkey

19th January 2016

77 million reasons to like Turkish

‘Female bird makes the nest.’ ‘Then you should buy the white goods.’ ‘There’s no such proverb.’ Credit: Erdil Yaşaroğlu

Let’s be frank: my Turkish isn’t much good.  I’ve been learning regularly for over three years; I wish I spoke it better.

Thanks to my excellent teachers, however, I’ve made some progress:  you can compare, for example, my first video blog in Turkish in August 2013;  my video about Lundy Island, in November 2013; and my video on conspiracy theories in July 2015.

What?  You don’t see any progress?  Well, so be it.

In learning Turkish, I have often been struck by the immense wealth of the language.  Turkish has elements of Arabic, French and Farsi.  It is rich in humour and culture.  Best of all, there are countless sayings which demonstrate the rich heritage of the language and culture of Turkey.

Here are a few examples.  I’ve put a few English equivalents, but would welcome suggestions for the others.

– “Yenilen pehlivan güreşe doymaz” (A defeated wrestler always wants another match).  Meaning: He who fails will always want to try again and again until he’s successful.

– “Deli deliyi görünce değneğini saklarmış” (When two madmen see eye to eye, each hides his stick from the other).  Meaning: when you come across someone as aggressive as yourself, you’ll have to calm down.

– “Meyve veren ağaç taşlanır” (the tree which bears fruit is stoned).  Meaning: someone who comes up with ideas is criticised.  English equivalent: tall poppy syndrome.

– “Dereyi görmeden paçaları sıvama” (don’t roll up your trousers before you reach the stream).  Meaning: don’t anticipate success too soon.  English equivalent: don’t count your chickens (before they’re hatched).

– “Su akarken testisini doldurmak”  (to fill one’s bucket when the water is flowing).  Meaning: save money when you can.  English equivalent: make hay while the sun shines.

– “Bal tutan parmağını yalar” (he who handles honey, licks his fingers).  Meaning: someone in charge of money gets to enjoy some personal benefits.

– “Havlayan köpek ısırmaz” (the dog that barks does not bite).  Meaning: a person may talk well without achieving anything.  English equivalent: all bark and no bite; an empty vessel makes the most noise; or, my favourite, all mouth and no trousers.

– “Ayağını yorganına göre uzat” (lay your feet in the length of your kilt).  Meaning: spend according to the amount of money you have.  English equivalent: cut your suit according to your cloth.

– “Her koyun kendi bacağından asılır” (every sheep is hanged from its own leg).  Meaning: everyone is responsible for their own actions (another version is “Hamama giren terler” – enter a Turkish bath and you will sweat).  English equivalent: as you make your bed, so you must lie on it.

– “Horozu çok olan köyün sabahı geç olur” (in a village with too many roosters, morning will come late).  Meaning: with too much deliberation, a solution won’t be reached.  English equivalent: too many cooks spoil the broth.

– “Iti ite kirdirmak” (killing a dog with another dog).  Meaning: fight evil with evil.   English equivalent: set a thief to catch a thief.

– “Ağaç yaşken eğilir” (the tree branch should be bent when it is young).  Meaning: train, or condition, a person at an early age.  English equivalent: give me the child, and I’ll give you the man; or you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

– “Damlaya damlaya göl olur” (drop by drop, a lake with form).  Meaning: small savings will lead to wealth.  English equivalent: look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

– “Sütten ağzı yanan, yoğurdu üfleyerek yer” (he who burns his mouth from drinking hot milk eats yoghurt carefully).  Meaning: experience makes you cautious.  English equivalent: once bitten, twice shy; or a burnt child dreads fire.

– “Yalancının mumu yatsıya kadar yanar” (a liar’s candle will last until evening).  Meaning: lies will be found out eventually.  English equivalent: truth will out (I’ve heard the alternative in several languages: “lies have short legs”).

One could write an essay about what these proverbs (and those English equivalents I can think of, or the lack of them) tell you about life in the two countries.  There’s a second essay about whether proverbs demonstrate universal values. There’s a third essay about the excellent dry wit of Turkish cartoonists – see above. But I’ve written enough already.  If you have better translations of some of these proverbs, please put them in the “Comments” section.

Suffice to say: 77 million Turkish-speakers have created, and continue to create, a rich mix of a language which we should relish, plunge into and try to speak better.  That sounds like 77 million reasons to like Turkish to me.

Follow Leigh Turner on Twitter  @LeighTurnerFCO

12 comments on “77 million reasons to like Turkish

  1. I’m learning Turkish with tutors on https://preply.com/en/skype/turkish-tutors. It’s a good source and I started to practice speaking. But even now I’m looking for new opportunities to try something new in language learning.

    If you know some great ways you tried yourself, let me know, please.I’ll be glad.

  2. Worth exploring this new book:

    Turkish Grammar in Practice by Foxton Books



  3. Dear Leigh, these are very funny!
    A sample from me about love
    “Gönül bu ota da konar boka da!”
    “This is heart, it can can land on grass or it can land on shit”
    Meaning; this is often said in wedding or engagement organizations to refer to the ugly(or cavemen-like) person in the couple. ?

  4. Love these! It’s fun to try to find English equivalents.
    I’d tweak the English of “Deli deliyi görünce değneğini saklarmış” a little, to “when a madman sees another madman coming, he hides his club”…

  5. My favorite: Battı balık yan gıder. Sank fısh goes sideways. Meaning once something goes wrong you will have to deal with it for a while

  6. The proverbs you’ve listed above are quite good examples, their meanings are correct as well as their English equivalents so there’s nothing to add or correct.
    I would strongly suggest you to look into the jokes of Nasreddin Hoca as they reflect the humour and wisdom of a millenia of cultural heritage in this land we call Anatolia. It would be also good for you to discover Bektasi jokes. One final advise I would give would be to discover the endless world of double-entendre’s in Turkish, which witty people often tend to use.
    Best wishes

  7. Excellent post. Thank you. Did you mean “quilt” instead of “kilt”, because I am sure we don’t wear our “yorgan”s like Scotsmen do their kilts.


  8. Attığımız taş ürküttüğümüz kurbağaya değmedi

    The frog we scared was not worth the stone we threw
    Meaning: Making too great effort and getting very little in return

    Denize düşen yılana sarılır

    Who falls into the sea would hug a snake
    Meaning: In extreme hardships people turn to anything / anyone for help

    Kabahat altın olsa kimse sahiplenmez

    If fault was golden still no one would own it
    Meaning: No one would be eager to accept their faults

  9. To read them is teaching me too-about English culturel language or explanstion of Turkish proverbs in English.Successfull. I like it.Great… By the way -set a thief to catch a thief- might more close to -malini hirsiza emanet edersen gozun arkada kalmaz-))) true and funny isn’t it? Thank you. (Guzel olmuş ellerinize saglik-bu da her zaman yemekler icin soylenmiyor bazen el isi yada calisma urunleri icin de kullaniliyor.Iyi calismalar dilerim.

  10. Some suggestions 🙂
    – “Dereyi görmeden paçaları sıvama” (don’t roll up your trousers before you reach the stream).
    Meaning: “Don’t get too exited before you see the light at the end of the tunnel”
    – “Bal tutan parmağını yalar” (he who handles honey, licks his fingers). Meaning: “Someone who makes proper decisions, will benefit at the end of the day” (So you should know what to handle)


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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.