I am new here since this year; this question is to help me understand the culture. I answered a new question, asking for an equivalent of Catalan 'Gent jove pa tou' or 'Young people soft bread' referring to being too young for certain tasks, with a US idiom-phrase. Later, however, I began to doubt whether this is an officially supported kind of question. A quick search for "proverbs" and "multi-word idioms" on ELU Meta seemed to mostly point to posts related to SWRs. The closest that I found was a comment at Is the EL&U community generally more receptive to idiom-requests that seek English equivalents for foreign phrases? which says:

ELU is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts + idiom (single-word) enthusiasts.

(Which is copied more or less from the mission statement). But other comments there, as well as the OP, mention that there are many well-received questions about multi-word proverbs.

I like these questions a lot, as they have a sort of human interest element, bu they tend to be rather subjective and regionally specific, as my answer at the "soft bread" question is. Up-votes aren't everything; my most-voted answer so far was for a SWR on which I spent very little work, only copying a dictionary definition and an example use in the NYT. It was up-voted only because it answered the question, not because it is a High Quality Answer.

At Why did mods delete two answers to 'Quitting your job too early'?, a question asking for a proverb is discussed in harrowing detail, and even answered. However, no official consensus about "proverbs" is invoked, except that they should be in use in English, not just borrowed on the spur of the moment.

So, are these proverb questions officially supported, or are they considered Low Quality or simply Off-topic?

  • 2
    If you find the question interesting and deserving of an answer what does it matter if some users are anti-SWR or anti-phrase requests? It's worth pointing out the question asking for its English equivalent is perfectly on-topic for the site. See our eldest contributor and elected moderator Yoichi Oishi's answers
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2020 at 7:05
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    A valid tag is idiom-requests (used in the referenced question), which is meant for phrases (it can be paired with phrase-requests), not single words, and it's often used to include proverbs. Aug 28, 2020 at 9:21
  • @Mari-LouA: Thanks! I didn't know Yoichi Oishi's honorable standing as longest-standing etc, but have already seen his good answers. My question, however, is about the official ELU stance (not "some users" stance)-- in asking it I assumed that even Yoishi Oishi could be mistaken. I will try to avoid this kind of disrespectful skepticism in the future :). However, I found plenty of documentation about how to do SWRs, but not about proverbs and sayings. What I was looking for in the docs was something like Mitch's answer.
    – Conrado
    Aug 28, 2020 at 15:21
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    Questions...Yoishi normally asks questions. I miswrote, too bad I can't edit the comment.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2020 at 15:27
  • With questions for proverbs, I see two problems. -- Many questions attract many opinions. No matter how juicy an answer is, it may be the wrong flavor imagined by the OP. -- Also, we could see infinite questions for English sayings that equate to other languages. Endlessly. I expect all questions, especially about proverbs, to supply a target context. Give me some reason that you actually need this information more than "Here's a challenge for you. See if you can jump higher. No, higher!” Aug 31, 2020 at 17:29
  • Relevant: the translation tag, which is for "Determining English equivalents for words or phrases in other languages"
    – hb20007
    Feb 23, 2021 at 22:16

2 Answers 2


Yes, proverb or idiom analog requests are very much on-topic.

But, like SWRs, there may be in practice lots of ways to ask these badly and attract too many poor answers.

For proverb/idiom requests, if they are looking for a corresponding one from another language/culture, please give the original language version (the answer may be very close to a translation) and give the cultural context (many European languages have different wordings for the morals from Aesop's Fables).

Also, as with all questions, give what your research may have already found.

  • Thanks! If it is not too much to ask for one more detail, is the on-topic-ness of proverb-idiom requests enshrined in written policy (beside the tag descriptions already meneioned by Jason Bassford) somewhere, or is it just The Way Things Are?
    – Conrado
    Aug 28, 2020 at 15:06
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    That's a big question. I'm going to be academic to answer that. There are multiple levels. There is a range: 1) built into the software, 2) written policy, 3) meta questions that are voted on 4) what people consciously say in comments/choose to vote to close, 5) what people do unconsciously by implication (ie The Way Things Are). In some sense there is no written policy ever, this is not a constitutional case-law persuasion of what's allowed, rather it is persuasion by discussion and closing vs allowing...
    – Mitch
    Aug 28, 2020 at 15:25
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    ... so even though a set of questions is asked about on meta and mostly voted to close, there's no enforcement (except by the fickle behavior of vote-to-closers). As an aside, I'm often surprised when such a meta question is asked because as a long time user, I remember lots and lots of discussion and an end consensus, but then I go search for it and can't find a definitive answer.
    – Mitch
    Aug 28, 2020 at 15:27
  • Maybe the discussion was over allowing those tags. Regulation and politics are a fine line to walk, I know; and I actually am glad to know that idiom-phrases is an area where a degree or two of freedom is given by not over-regulating it, and democracy can take its course that way. Many thanks. Cheers!
    – Conrado
    Aug 28, 2020 at 15:41

There is no rule that specifically prohibits such questions, and there is, in principle, no reason why there should be.

Proverbs, however, tend to be very much culture-bound, so the correct answer to such questions will very often be 'There is no analogous proverb in English'. Such an answer would, however, not satisfy the standards of this site, so it won't be posted. Instead, the question will likely generate a number of answers offering English proverbs that don't have quite the same function, but are in some way similar. The page then turns into a contest on who can come up with an English proverb that is the closest to the original one, which is, I think, what @Yosef Baskin was pointing out in his comment. Determining which proverb 'wins' the contest will often (but not always) be a matter of opinion. These questions may thus, in practice, be at odds with the policy of avoiding questions that cannot be given definite answers.

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