Village wisdom: Corsican proverbs and sayings

Every Corsican comes from a village and Corsican wisdom is the wisdom of village life. Such village wisdom looks inwards for its universal insights into human frailty and mortality, luck and jealousy. Its laconic sayings find truth in food and wine, saucepans and barrels. Eggs, bread, soup, ripe figs and pears feed the imagery as do the essential functions of eating and sleeping. Darker, more surreal tones come from foxes pissing on old dogs or the nightmare world of people born without heads to spite the hatmaker. Our ambiguous relationships with money, beauty, love and the passage of time are never far. This is the wisdom of the granite fountain stone, well worn by a steady stream of fresh water from deep within the mountain.

Corsican proverbs and sayings selected from: Pruverbii e’ detti Corsi, Paul Dalmas-Alfonsi (Rivages 2004) English translations: Eddie Playfair (2012).

1. U mondu ghje un mare di lacrime.

The world is an ocean of tears.

 

2. U mondu he bellu basta a sapellu piglia.

The world is beautiful if  you know how to look at it.

 

3. Un’ ci he pesciu/carne/rosula senza lische/osse/spina.

There’s no fish/meat/rose without bones/bones/thorns.

 

4. Un’ si po fa frittata senza rompe l’ove.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

 

5. I soldi, induve vanu? Induve ellu ci n’he di piu!

Where does money go? Where there’s the most!

 

6. Quandu facciu eiu I cappelli nascenu l’omi scapati.

When I make hats, the men are born without heads.

Or: If I was a hatmaker, people would be born without heads.

 

7. Quandu u cane he vechju a volpe li piscia addossu.

When the dog is old, the fox pisses on him.

 

8. A botte vechja fa bon vinu.

An old barrel gives good wine.

 

9. A bellezza passa prestu.

Beauty fades quickly.

 

10. Giuventu ! Giuventu! Una volta e po nun piu!

Youth! Youth! Once and never again!

 

11. Indu e pignattte vechje si face a bona suppa.

Old saucepans make good soup.

(There’s no substitute for experience).

 

12. Nimu un po risponde di esseci dumane.

No one can claim they’ll be here tomorrow.

 

13. Tuttu natu deve more,

All that is born must die,

 

14. Finu a a morte camperemu,

Until death we live.

 

15. Quandu a pera he matura si ne casca.

When the pear is ripe it will drop.

 

16. U mortu allarga u vivu.

The dead make room for the living.

 

17. A’ more ci he sempre tempu.

We’re always on time for death.

 

18. Un diavule caccia l’astru.

One devil (misfortune) replaces another.

 

19. Un’ ci vole mica a fassi croce prima di vede u Diavule.

Don’t cross yourself before seeing the Devil.

(Don’t worry about misfortunes that haven’t happened).

 

20. A speranza, prima chi nasce, ultima chi more.

Hope is first- born and last to die.

 

21. A’ chi troppu ride u venneri, pienghjera a dumenica.

Laugh too much on Friday, cry on Sunday.

 

22. I so panni brutti si lavanu in famiglia.

Wash your dirty laundry in the family.

 

23. A’ chi ti tene caru ti face pienghje, a’ chi un ti tene caru ti face ride

Who loves you makes you cry, who doesn’t makes you laugh.

 

24. In ogni lettu ci he puci.

Every bed has fleas.

 

25. Spazza a piazza e u portacu chi, s’ellu ghjunghje calchissia, ch’ellu pensi ch’e ghje pulitu dapertuttu.

Sweep the lobby so that visitors will think the rest is also clean.

 

26. Chi vole sta un’ esci da a so casa.

If you want to stay at home, don’t go out.

 

27. Quandu tuttu u mondu cumanda, l’affari vanu male.

Things go badly when everyone’s in charge.

 

28. Quandu un ci he gattu in casa, i topi ballanu.

When the cat’s away, the rats dance.

 

29. Ghje un gattivu canta quandu i strumenti un so mica d’accordu.

The song is bad if the instruments are out of tune.

 

30. Figlioli chjuchi, penseri chjuchi. Figlioli grandi, penseri grandi.

Little children, little worries. Big children, big worries.

 

31. Quandu era giovanu eiu, cumandavanu i gentori, ma ava cumandanu i zitelli.

When I was young, the parents were in change, but now the children are in charge.

 

32. Ognonu trova scarpu a so pede.

Each finds a shoe for their foot.

 

33. Nun ci he amore senza ghjelusia.

There is no love without jealousy.

 

34. L’amore he cecu.

Love is blind.

 

35. Patti chjari, amici cari.

Clear contracts make dear friends.

 

36. A’ ch’ha piu bellu filu face piu bella tela.

Who has the finest thread makes the finest fabric.

 

37. A’ ch’ha danaru face tuttu.

Who has money can do everything.

 

38. Di nasce riccu, quess’un he una virtue soia.

There’s no virtue in being born rich.

 

39. A puverta un face vergogna.

There’s no shame in being poor.

 

40. He megliu poveri e onorati ch’e ricchi e in vergogna.

Better to be poor and honourable than rich and shameful.

 

41. Ancu u pocu he assai per quellu ch’ha bisognu.

A little is quite a lot for those who need it.

 

42. Sangue di e petre un si ne po caccia.

You can’t squeeze blood from stones (one can’t give what one hasn’t got).

 

43. A’ ch’un ha dinari un’ ha piu voglie.

Who has no money has no desires.

 

44. Fin ch’e dura fa figura.

Flaunt it while it lasts.

 

45. A’ forza di caccia e d’un mette a botte canta.

The more you take and don’t replace the more the barrel will sing.

 

46. Un fa mica u passu piu grande ch’e l’infurcatoghja.

Don’t step beyond your stride (don’t spend more than you have).

 

47. Un’ he mica a guazza chi empie u fossu.

The dew won’t fill the tank (small economies can be false economies).

 

48. For a u dente for a u pena.

Tooth gone, pain gone (pay your debts and rid yourself of worries).

 

49. A’ alberu caduto, acceta! Acceta !

Once the tree has fallen everyone gets their axe out.

 

50. A’ un fica chi ghjimba tuttu u mondu s’arremba.

Everyone leans on the leaning fig tree.

 

51. A bocca si trova ancu a bughju.

You can find your mouth even in the dark (if you’re hungry).

 

52. Di manghja a di gratta tuttu he a principia.

Whether eating or scratching, the main thing is to start.

 

53. So chi si manghja un he ghjittatu.

What is eaten is not wasted.

 

54. Manghja a minestra o salta la finestra.

Eat your soup or jump out of the window (take what you’re given).

 

55. U techju un crede u famitu.

The full don’t believe the hungry.

 

56. Cun l’annata di a divizia pensa a l’annata di a dicetta.

In the good years think of the bad years (plan ahead).

 

57. Pane biancu a fichi mature – e’ ch’ela duri !

White bread and ripe figs – long may it last !

 

58. Si manghja e si beie e’ alegri si sta.

Eat, drink and be merry.

 

59. Un’ he micca l’abitu chi face u prete.

The habit doesn’t make the priest.

 

60. Manghja a gustu toiu e’ vestiti a gustu di l’astri.

Eat to your taste but dress to others’ taste.

 

 

About Eddie Playfair

Principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) East London. Blogging about education, politics and culture in a personal capacity. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
This entry was posted in Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s