Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews


PROVERBS
As they say, If You Have No Proverb, Make One Up.


Italian, Neapolitan, and their meanings in English
I had an army buddy, Ray, who was a fan of Arthur Shopenhauer. Ray quoted a lot: "You know, Shopenhauer said, 'Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.' or  'Shopenhauer said “Happiness consists in frequent repetition of pleasure”. Then 'Schopenhauer said "Don't quote. Tell me what you know." I don't know that Ray ever got how funny that was.

Yet we all quote proverbs, those pithy expressions that show people how clever you are. We say:
  this is a proverb
more below   
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON (an "idiom of improbabilty".) It's the fourth full moon in a season. Pretty frequent, actually. Besides, you might get a song out of it. Or HASTE MAKES WASTE. I think that's a negative version of A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE, rIght? YOU CAN'T HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO. I agree with Scottish comic Billy Connely, who said, "What good is it to have cake if you can't eat it?" (It makes sense if we take "have cake" to mean "eat" -- this, "you can't eat cake and eat it, too." It means "you can't have it both ways" and "you can't have the best of both worlds." There are similar phrases in many languages. In Brazilian Portuguese: "Wanting to whistle and suck on sugar cane." German: "To dance at two weddings."

IF THE SHOE FITS, WEAR IT, or ON THE INTERNET, NOBODY KNOWS YOU'RE A DOG. (Yes, there are new proverbs!) It's fun matching language to language. Very few are simply word for word translations. They may employ historical or religious references that don't mean anything in another culture. I mentioned "idioms of improbability". 
In Italian I remember one well. I got it from my dear wife many decades ago: AD OGNI MORTE DI PAPA (every time the pope dies!) Here's one I still don't understand: AFFARI DI MARIA CAZZETA, to express behavior that tries to be clever but turns out to a total flop. I like that one, but I can't use it until Selene Salvi explains it to me. Who was this poor woman, Maria Cazzeta? I'm willing to give her another chance, but first I have to know. For "back in the old days" I like AI TEMPI CHE BERTA FILAVA (when Bertha was still around), but that works only if you know that Berta refers to the wife of Charlemagne (800 A.D.) and wife of Pepin the Short. I thought they meant the great WWI howitzer, Big Bertha.

Other Italian idioms of improbability are: QUANDO GLI ASINI VOLERANNO, (when donkeys fly); IL 31 FEBBRAIO (February 31st);
IL GIORNO DI "MAI" ED IL MESE DI POI, ("never"-day in the month of "then"); VOLER LA BOTTE PIENA E LA MOGLIE UBRIACA; to want the barrel full (of wine) and the wife drunk; and for absolutely useless speculation, I like  SE MIA NONNA AVESSE LE RUOTE, SAREBBE UN CARRIOLA, (if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a cart).

Neapolitan proverbs tend to be very earthy. Dialects are like that. Closer to home.
You may also be dealing with a "stigmatized language" or even "self-stigmatized language" It's world-wide.* The way they speak is disapproved of by those who speak the official state-approved language (often the language of  the greatest number of speakers). Also, certain dialects are "self-stigmatized", that is, speakers disapprove of the way they, themselves, speak. (It happens all the time: "Oh, I just speak a dialect." In Italy, Neapolitan is one such self-stigmatized dialect. It's a mistake to try to translate the coarseness. They can be rough, and in what follows I have tried to keep vulgar what is vulgar. Cover your eyes while you read.
*I met a woman who said she spoke only a "dialect". She meant Tagalog, spoken as a first language by the ethnic Tagalog people, who make up a quarter of the population of the Philippines, and as a second language by the majority. It's officially named Filipino, and is the national language of the Philippines and is one of two official languages, alongside English. That is an example of self-stigmatization.
Neapolitan

OGNI SCARRAFONE E' BELLO 'A MAMMA SOJA, (even a cockroach is mommy's little darling).
L'AMICO  E' COMME' 'O 'MBRELLO:  QUANNO CHIOVE NUN O TRUOVE MAJE (friends are like umbrellas. They're never around when it's  raining.
GIACCHINO METTETTE 'LEGGE E GIACCHINO FUJE 'MPISO, (Murat wrote the law and he was hanged by it). You can also pick up
some history along the way. In the very early 1800s the kingdom of Naples was taken over by Napoleon, who installed Gioacchino Murat as king. Murat passed a law punishing violations of quarantine by death. When he, himself, was chased off and then tried to retake the Kingdom of Naples by a sea-landing, he broke his own quarantine law and was executed.
A CHI PARLA ARETO 'O CULO 'O RISPONNE (talk behind someone's back and you'll get an answer out his ass).
CHI NASCE AFFLITTO MORE SCUNZULATO (if you're a born pessimist, you'll die in desolation. a very optimistic idiom. Shades of Jimmy Durante's "Ya gotta start off each day with song, even when things go wrong");
CO 'VOCCA CHIUSA NUN TRASENO MOSCHE (keep your mouth shut and you won't catch flies);
QUANN' 'O MARE E' CALMO, OGNI STRUNZ E' MARENARO (when the sea is calm every ass-hole thinks he's a sailor).

Oh, I almost forgot the Chines proverb. I have it straight from horse's mouth (no, she's not a horse but a pretty Chinese woman. That's just a figure of speech, not quite the same as a proverb. She tells me that, character by character, that proverb says "Learn till old, live till old, and there is still three-tenths not learned". Hmmm, 13 characters, 13 words in English. I don't know what that means. If you do, take a hike. The meaning is... no matter how old you are, there is still more learning or studying left to do. OK. I accept that. I was just wondering if, in spirit, it is close to Socrates'  "I finally know that I know nothing." I also asked if there is a way to make a modest change in one character that would louse people up. You know, say something silly. Stay tuned.

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