COLUMN — Board game explores sayings from around the world

Published 6:00 am Friday, December 11, 2020

If you are looking for a new game to play during the holidays, you may be interested in a board game called “Wise and Otherwise.”

The purpose of this game is to introduce players to the first half of sayings from different countries and to challenge them to consider what the second half might be.

Players hear one half of the proverb and before getting the answer, write what they think is a logical rejoinder. At the end of each round, players hear what everyone has written along with the correct second half and everyone votes for the answer they think is correct. Finally, the entire proverb is read out loud and those who have voted for the correct ending receive the most points, although those who have managed to convince others that their ending was correct also receive a high number of points as well.

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So much culture, humor and wisdom is preserved in common sayings or proverbs from countries and cultures around the world. Some of these sayings are immediately accessible to us because of the commonality of the human experience, while others provide a new way to look at a common aspect of life. Some sayings are more difficult to parse because they reflect a particular cultural category or value that is largely unknown to us. The latter are often the most rewarding to discover, perhaps because the thrill of seeing with new eyes provides so much joy and satisfaction for those who love to learn new things.

The following is a sampling of some of the complete sayings in the game. See if these are immediately understandable for you or if they require a bit of thought and deeper knowledge of culture.

From the Irish, “Everyone is affable until a cow goes into their garden,” and “Anything will fit a naked man.”

The Masai say, “Mountains do not meet,” while the Afghans say, “Men are mountains and women are the levers that move them.” From Russian we have, “Curly hair, curly thoughts,” and “If you begin with the tail, there is something wrong with your head.” The Italians say, “Don’t bite until you know if it’s a stone or bread,” and “Peel a fig for your friend and a peach for your enemy.”

There is a wry wisdom, instantly recognizable, in the old Czech saying, “The soup at the court is good but you must jump high for it,” as well as in the old Bantu saying, “The heart is like a goat that must be tied up.” We hear the humor in the old Estonian saying, “A good buttock finds a bench for itself,” and the warning in the old Scottish saying, “A crooked stick has a crooked shadow.” We see the beauty of wit, grace, and character in sayings such as, “Gold words open iron doors,” (Turkic) and “A good man never hurts a tree.” (Hungarian) There is so much truth in the Arabic saying, “February has no rules,” and in the old Estonian saying, “Never regret having eaten too little.”

I’ll close with 10 unfinished proverbs from the game. Grab a cup of coffee, chat with a couple of friends, jot down the possible rejoinders and then compare with the correct answers at the end of the column. If you enjoy this, purchase the “Wise and Otherwise” for hours of fun. As you write, remember that the Basque say, “Old sayings have no lies.”

From Arabic: “If the ass is summoned to the wedding …”

Also from Arabic: “The biggest nuts are …”

From Spanish: “Good luck makes its way …”

From Bulgarian: “Milk the mosquito …”

From Basque: “When the shepherds quarrel …”

From Guernsey: “The little pig …”

From Czech: “Do not jump high …”

From Dutch: “A cock is valiant …”

From Scottish: “Dogs and children …”

From Chilean Spanish: “Why should a man without a head …”

Answers (Arabic) “it is to carry wood.” (Arabic) “those which are empty.” (Spanish) “by elbowing.” (Bulgarian) “to serve your king.” (Basque) “it shows in the cheese.” (Guernsey) “gets the big parsnip.” (Czech) “under a low ceiling.” (Dutch) “on its own dunghill.” (Scottish) “are fond of fools. (Chilean) want a hat?”

JULIA PALMER is an associate professor of modern languages at Hampden-Sydney College. Her email address is