I was reading through the question about not quitting one job before the next one was lined up, and I noticed that two different users left answers about new and old shoes. Both were deleted by moderators.

In dutch we have a saying "Don't throw away your old shoes before you get new ones".

In Dutch you have a saying: Don't throw away your old shoes before you've got a new pair.

I'm not sure why these were deleted! First of all, I've never been opposed to using "loan idioms." I've learned a few from ELU over the years, and I have no problem using an idiom from another culture if it's readily understandable and quite applicable.

Moreover, before one of these answers was deleted, one commenter said:

Also, it's not a common Dutch saying (I never heard of it before).

I'm no expert on Dutch idioms, but I did find this on an English dictionary page:

85 Proverbs about Shoes

  1. Don't throw away your old shoes until you have got new ones. (Dutch Proverb)

In short, I think there's a good chance this really is a Dutch proverb that has been used in English before, and it definitely fits the O.P.'s bill: that is, it would be an excellent idiom to use when advising someone to make sure their next job is lined up before they quit their current one.

I would have simply voted to undelete the post, but, since both of these were deleted by mods, this was not an option.

I would respectfully ask the moderation team to reconsider their deletions in this case and letting one of the answers stand. It's a good suggestion.

  • 2
    While I want to agree with you, I can't. A lot of questions asking for idioms or proverbs can be better answered by loaning from other languages. But that's not our site's propose, is it? – NVZ Mar 9 '17 at 22:10
  • 1
    The particular dutch proverb may well be a good suggestion. But, forgetting the poor general quality of the two answers, I think there were suspicions that it was the same individual posting twice. – Mitch Mar 10 '17 at 14:11
  • @NVZ - Maybe these 17 answers should be deleted as well then. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 20:53
  • @Mitch - I initially wondered the same thing, but I noticed one of the two accounts links to an established SO user who has asked seven questions and answered eight others. Also, the wording of the two answers was slightly different, suggesting to me this could well be two different people who both happened to be familiar with this very apt saying. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 20:57
  • @J.R. - so in my case english.stackexchange.com/questions/377739/… I should use the Latin proverb in English contexts, (or better its translation) books.google.com/ngrams/… - I've tried but....no success. – user66974 Mar 10 '17 at 21:58
  • @Josh - It depends on how you define success. In my mind, it's never to late to scurry to a dictionary and learn something new, or ask for clarification from someone using a phrase I'm not familiar with. For example, in the past month or so, I've run across both machts nichts and in for a penny, in for a pound for the first time, and was glad to learn both of them. (That's a good question on verba volant, btw.) – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 22:59

English is as voracious a language as any other, I imagine, and its tendency to gobble up words and expressions from other languages is surely encouraged by the fact that in many predominantly English-speaking parts of the world (such as North America) the language is constantly being enriched by contributions from immigrants who speak other languages and who add anglicized versions of words and sayings from their native languages to the local or regional English mix.

Consequently I was not greatly surprise to discover that Wolfgang Mieder, A Dictionary of American Proverbs (1992) includes this proverb, collected in Ontario:

Don't throw away your old shoes before you get new ones.

In a Google Books search, most matches for the expression (like this one from 1893) note that it is originally Dutch, or are by Dutch authors writing in or translated into English (like this one from a 1970 article on quantum physics—one of two instances in the same article), or are datelined from the Netherlands (like this one from The Rotarian [Chicago, April 1935], datelined Utrecht). But this example from Roger Welsch, Mister, You Got Yourself a Horse: Tales of Old-Time Horse Trading (University of Nebraska Press, 1981), appears to be straight-down-the-fairway U.S. English:

Luther wasn't a bad sort but a man who would throw away his old shoes before he had any assurance that he could hang onto his new ones was none too promising as a credit risk. Still, I thought, his foolishness was the means of making me near a thousand dollars.

Likewise, "Senex," a letter writer to the editor of the [Melbourne, Victoria] Argus (August 16, 1880), uses this form of the expression in a column titled "Religion in State Schools":

If one cobbler hid supplied him with a pair of ill fitting shoes, he says that he would apply to some other to make him a better. But that implies the existence of another cobbler whose shoes had been proved to be better. I ask him to name the cobbler and to produce the shoes. To cast off the old shoes before we have found our cobbler, would be to go barefoot, and I don't wish our children to go morally barefoot.

So is "Don't throw away your old shoes before you get new ones" really an English proverb? Probably not, unless your standards for what constitutes an English proverb are extremely easy to satisfy (as Mieder's seem to be). But is it an expression that has appeared multiple times in English over a period of many years, and does it make sense as a proverbial saying when read in English, and do at least some English speakers treat it as an aphorism? Yes, yes, yes.

Denying that something is a part of English just because it didn't start in English is so dubious a position that I doubt anyone here would endorse it. And just because I may be unfamiliar with an expression doesn't mean that it isn't part of everyday English speech in some part of the English-speaking world. These considerations lead me to think that answers suggesting English versions of proverbs from other languages may well be useful to people who ask questions such as What's a good idiom or saying to say "don't leave your current job before getting another"?

In fact, as here, the suggested expression may turn out to have appeared in numerous English-language publications in the past and may be a legitimate English expression. But even if it had never been used by native English speakers, that doesn't mean that the figurative expression from Dutch, when translated into English, wouldn't be worth considering as an effective way to express the idea in English.

For these reasons, I oppose deleting such suggestions, unless they appear without any supporting documentation or explanation. (And of course, our standard practice in instances where an answer lacks adequate support is to ask for such content, rather than to immediately delete the answer.) Not only are these suggestions from other languages potentially useful to the question asker, but sometimes they turn out to be established in English already.

  • 3
    This unwarranted meddling by mods is why we can't have nice things around here. Don't say I didn't warn about this. Downvotes are the appropriate remedy for answers that give an alleged idiom that turns out to be an inapt translation from another language. – deadrat Mar 10 '17 at 10:51
  • 2
    @deadrat - For the record, I think the moderation team does a good job at a thankless task. I've brought up one instance here where I've asked them to reconsider, but I don't want to make this all about slamming the mods. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 20:45
  • 2
    Sven - If the answer had been allowed to stay, someone like you or I could edit it and add this supporting information. That's precisely why I hope it is ultimately undeleted. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 20:45
  • 3
    @J.R.: Exactly so. I think the problem here is twofold. First, objectively, the Dutch or formerly Dutch expression may in this particular case be the best match for the sense that the question asker wants to convey. It certainly seems more on point to me than either "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" (97 upvotes) or "don't count your chickens before they're hatched" (90 upvotes). The shoes saying is about a one-for-one replacement, old for new. The bird in bush saying is literally about weighing one sure thing against the bare prospect of two things equal in value to the first.... – Sven Yargs Mar 10 '17 at 21:10
  • 4
    ... And the chicken counting saying is about making plans based on something that isn’t secure yet. Second, and more generally (as you note in your response to Kit Z Fox’s answer), the deletion of the shoes answers reflects not systematic enforcement of a policy against unsupported answers but selective enforcement of the policy. As you say, there is no clear reason to tolerate “Better be sure than sorry or a living dog is better than a dead lion” (or for that matter “Wing walker's rule: Never let go of something unless you've got a good hold on something else”) while killing the shoes saying. – Sven Yargs Mar 10 '17 at 21:11
  • @Sven - Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Thank you. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 21:26
  • 2
    @J.R. Relax, dude. My attitude isn't catching. If it were, things would be different. The usual phrasing is "the mods do a good job at a difficult task." But thankless? It seems to me that people like you regularly fall all over themselves thanking the mods for the terrific job they're doing. And I think it's fair to say that, indeed, the mods are good at what they do. Some of it (as in this instance) is just stuff they shouldn't be doing. – deadrat Mar 11 '17 at 0:05

The answers to the post were word for word what was given, without any supporting documentation or explanation. It's common practice to delete answers that are a single word with filler text on single-word-requests. This is the same as that. All of these answers should have at least a reference source, if not some indication of usage, frequency, and appropriate contexts. Idioms are not an exception to the rule.

It has nothing to do with being of Dutch origin, although that certainly doesn't help anything. There was another answer "dont leave the house without umbrella" which no one seems to mind being deleted.

  • 4
    More deleting should be done then. There's an answer on that question now with 40+ upvotes: The metaphor used in my family has always likened this to climbing a ladder...don't release your hold on one rung until you've got a grasp on the next. I suppose there's a bare minimum of "indication of usage" there, but not much. There's also "Better be sure than sorry or a living dog is better than a dead lion," which sits undeleted. I think your reasoning would have been justification for a downvote and/or a comment to add more, but I think there's more to this deletion than what you say here. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 20:43
  • 2
    It's possible—but not easy—to reconcile this answer ("It has nothing to do with being of Dutch origin, although that certainly doesn't help anything.") with Andrew Leach's answer ("It's quite simple. This is a site about English, not Dutch."). Read simply, your answer seems to argue that the foreignness of the phrase is irrelevant, while Andrew's answer presents it as the main problem. Your contrasting accounts of what made the deleted answers unacceptable tends to cloud rather than to clarify the criteria that moderators deem most relevant in deciding which answers to delete. – Sven Yargs Mar 10 '17 at 23:02
  • @Sven I address that in my second paragraph. – Andrew Leach Mar 10 '17 at 23:43
  • @Sven My point is that they were deleted for lack of supporting information, not for being Dutch. If they had supporting information that demonstrated it was an expression only Dutch people use, it would have been deleted for being Dutch or maybe converted to a comment. – Kit Z. Fox Mar 10 '17 at 23:46
  • 1
    @JR I don't doubt there are more answers that could be deleted for lack of support. I rather hope the community would do that. I respond to what comes through the queue and I don't have the time I once did to review all answers on phrase/word requests. – Kit Z. Fox Mar 10 '17 at 23:49

It's been reposted by another account, apparently not the same person, so I think in this specific case the best thing is to let the deleted, unsourced answers lie where they are.

But yes, I agree with you that the original posts didn't need to be deleted. (It's not like they were the worst suggestions on the page, in my opinion.)

I don't feel too strongly about it, however. The question is the type that naturally attracts a stream of short answers of dubious quality. I imagine the other, un-deleted answers will serve the OP about as well. Still, if we're going to have idiom-request questions on this site, I don't see how it helps anyone to restrict answers to idioms from one particular cultural tradition, or to insist that answers must document the history of the suggested idiom, when what really matters is if it gets the idea across in an easily understandable way to modern-day listeners.


It's quite simple. This is a site about English, not Dutch.

The answers posted are just a translation into English of a Dutch proverb, without any evidence that it is actually used in English. The one version which remains actually admits that, which makes the answer slightly more useful than a simple bald suggestion of a Dutch proverb.

A similar situation would be to suggest Het regent katten en honden in Dutch instead of Het regent oude wijven. The English don't characterise rainstorms in terms of old women; the Dutch don't think of cats and dogs.

An answer on this site suggesting an idiomatic phrase does actually need to supply an English idiom, or a sentence which is based on an English metaphor — like the answer about climbing a ladder. Climbing a ladder is a fairly common metaphor in English for progression in employment. It would be good if some objective evidence was adduced for that suggestion, but it is based on an idea which can be identified in English usage. The Dutch phrase can't.

Any answer which is simply translating a foreign idiom might usefully be a comment, though. The information may be of interest, but I don't think it can be an answer for an English phrase.

  • 3
    I agree, the fact that the English language is very permeable to foreign words doesn't mean that a translated foreign expression is by definition a good suggestion. – user66974 Mar 10 '17 at 10:26
  • 2
    Except I've shown that English translations of the proverb are quoted in English. Many English proverbs started as Chinese proverbs, or German proverbs. Had the deleted answers been in Dutch, I would have agreed with the translation. A English proverb with a Dutch origin is still an English proverb. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 20:39
  • @J.R. - the source you linked just shows a translation from a Dutch proverb, it doesn't say it is an established English one and, as a matter of fact, it is not present elsewhere. As for other foreign sayings which found their way into the English language, that's another kettle of fish. – user66974 Mar 10 '17 at 21:11
  • 1
    @Josh: As I note in my answer to this Meta question, the expression appears in A Dictionary of American Proverbs. That may be fortuitous, since the posters citing its Dutch origin probably didn't know that it has a foothold in English, but I think it poses a problem for the assertion that "it is not present elsewhere." – Sven Yargs Mar 10 '17 at 21:27
  • @J.R. - act as you think it is more appropriate, but that doesn't support the fact that a translation of a foreign expression is a valid answer. If we apply the same criteria to SWRs, where are we going to end up? – user66974 Mar 10 '17 at 21:32
  • 2
    The issue is that the deleted answers were simply presented as a Dutch proverb: "In Dutch, you can say..." That has as much validity as In het Engels, kun je zeggen 'Het regent katten en honden'. We don't want to know what the Dutch say, whether in Dutch or English. We want to know English idioms. – Andrew Leach Mar 10 '17 at 21:37
  • 5
    @Andrew - The main beef I have with that is argument is that all my life I've seen proverbs listed as Dutch, German, French, Chinese, etc., but that didn't mean they weren't widely used nor did it make them less applicable to the situation at hand. Heck, the Golden Rule could be regarded as a Hebrew proverb, but that doesn't disqualify it as an English idiom. Personally, I'd rather use a lesser-known proverb that fits well over a trite and well-established idiom that's not quite as apropos. I come to ELU to learn, not to read a list of expressions I've heard since I was nine years old. – J.R. Mar 10 '17 at 21:45
  • I agree completely with the deletion, the repost now explains "This is an idiom in my language," what next? Are we to have answers posted to questions here written in Chinese hànzì ? – Gary Mar 12 '17 at 3:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .