“Went the Horse Into the River”: Proverbs and Expressions

31.05.2012 § 2 Comments

The Bulgarian language is rich in idioms, sayings and proverbs. While many are difficult to translate, even a poor translation can give you an idea of some of the sometimes wise, sometimes absurd and often endearing phrases that inject the wisdom and humour of past generations into everyday language. I have broken these down by general theme, in Bulgarian with an English translation and additional notes.

(Let me know in the comments if you’d like clarification on any of these or if you’d like a transliteration or an audio lesson on how to say some of them.)

Smarts and Intelligence

  • Балък лозе копа, юнак вино пие.
    Morons pick grapes, heroes drink wine.
  • Който няма акъл има крака.
    He who has no brains has legs.
    If you cannot apply your intelligence to produce a less effortful solution, you should be prepared to do the grunt work.
  • Ако младостта знаеше, а старостта можеше!
    If only youth knew and age could!
  • Акъл — море, глава — шамандура.
    Smarts – sea, head – buoy.
    Said of a particularly foolish person or act, implying that their head is entirely empty of wisdom as the buoy is of seawater.
  • Законът е врата у широко поле: кой е улав, он минава през нея.
    The law is like a gate in an open field: only the naive go through the gate.
    This is a proverb native to the Shopluka region of Bulgaria and does not necessarily represent the state of our legal system 😉
  • Утрото е по-мъдро от вечерта.
    The morning is wiser than the evening.


  • Блага дума железни врата отваря.
    A kind word opens iron doors.
  • Казана дума, хвърлен камък.
    A word uttered is a stone thrown.
  • Лоша рана заздравява, но лоша дума не се забравя.
    A bad wound will heal, but a bad word will not be forgotten.
  • С питане и до Цариград се стига.
    Asking can get you as far as Constantinople.
    This proverb was created during the Ottoman dominion when Constantinople (or Tzarigrad) sounded far. The idea is, by asking directions and being polite, one can go far.
  • Който пее, зло не мисли.
    He who sings does not wish ill.

Work Ethic

  • Който има крава пие мляко.
    He who has a cow drinks milk.
  • Бог високо, цар далеко.
    God is high, the king is far.
    Said to discourage relying on external help and to foster self-sufficiency.
  • Брат брата не храни, но тежко му който го няма.
    A brother won’t feed his brother, but woe betide whoever has none.
    Even though family can only help so far, it’s always better to have them around.
  • Бързата работа — срам за майстора.
    A rushed job brings shame to the craftsman.
  • Залудо работи, залудо не стой.
    Work for nothing, don’t sit for nothing.
    When idle, one can still do something useful.
  • На вълка затова му е дебел вратът, защото сам си върши работата.
    The wolf’s neck is think because he does his own work.
    Doing your own hard work will make you stronger.
  • Първо скочи, после кажи хоп.
    Jump first, say “hop!” after.
    Don’t brag before you’ve accomplished something.
  • Три пъти мери, един път режи.
    Measure thrice, cut once.
  • Сговорна дружина планина повдига.
    A united company can lift a mountain.
  • Юнак без рана не ходи.
    Heroes can’t be without wounds.

Perseverance and Mismatch

  • Капка по капка вир става.
    Drop by drop, you get a river.
    Used for savings or regular small contributions that eventually add up to a large gain.
  • Всяка жаба да си знае гьола.
    Every frog should know its puddle.
    Similar to “play within your own league”.
  • Видяла жабата, че подковават вола, и тя вдигнала крак.
    The frog saw they were farrying the ox and raised its leg.
    Said of someone trying to affect to being more than they are.
  • За една бълха не изгаряй цялата черга!
    Don’t burn the whole rug for one flea.
    Said for needless overreactions.
  • Една птичка пролет не прави.
    One songbird doesn’t mean it’s spring.
  • Вместо вежди да изпише, очи извади.
    Instead of painting eyebrows, he gouged out eyes.
    Said of a well intentioned act that yielded negative results.
  • Ако е гарга, да е рошава!
    If it’s going to be a crow, it might as well be disheveled!
    If you’re going to do something, do it right. 
  • Да би мирно седяло, не би чудо видяло.
    If it had stayed still, it wouldn’t have seen hell.
    If you hadn’t gotten involved, you wouldn’t have suffered the consequences.
  • Петима Петко не чакат!
    Five won’t wait for Petko!
    Don’t expect large projects to wait on small details.


  • Когато си видиш ушите.
    When you see your own ears.
  • Когато цъфнат налъмите.
    When the pattens bloom.
    A patten is a piece of footwear made up of a slab of wood and a thong. Pattens blooming is a very, very unlikely event.
  • Под вола теле търси.
    Looking for a calf under the bull.
  • Прати го за зелен хайвер.
    Sent him out for green caviar.
    Green caviar doesn’t exist. ‘Nuff said.
  • На гол тумбак чифте пищови.
    He put a pair of pistols on a bare tummy.
    Said of someone who buys beyond his means or say put blacklights on an ’87 Honda Civic.
  • Гледа като теле в железница.
    He’s looking around like a calf in a trainyard.


  • За да изкопаеш кладенец, копай на едно място.
    To dig a well, dig in one place.
    Focus on one thing to get it done.
  • Вълкът козината си мени, но нрава — никога.
    The wolf may change his hide, but never his character.
  • Каквото повикало, такова се и обадило.
    Whatever called, the same replied.
  • Капка катран бъчва мед разваля.
    A drop of tar ruins a barrel of honey.
  • Маймуни с трици не се ловят.
    Can’t catch monkeys with chaff.
  • Око да види и ръка да пипне.
    Let eyes see and hands touch.
    Don’t take anyone’s word for the quality of the goods at hand – examine them for yourself.
  • Хитрата сврака, с двата крака.
    The clever magpie get both its legs caught.
    Being overly clever or sly can land you in a lot of trouble.
  • Покритото мляко котките не го лочат.
    Cats don’t drink covered milk.
    Equivalent to “it’s better to be safe than sorry”.
  • Приятелството си е приятелство, но сиренето е с пари.
    Friendship is friendship, but cheese costs money.
    Don’t expect a friendship to lead to unjustified fiscal leniency.
  • Хубавият кон и под скъсан чул се познава.
    A good horse can shine under a torn blanket.
    Appearances don’t matter as much as what’s on the inside.
  • Сит на гладен не вярва.
    The fed don’t believe the hungry.
    It’s hard to convince someone of your plight if they haven’t experienced it themselves.
  • Лете без аба, зиме без торба не ходи.
    Don’t leave the house without a coat in the summer, don’t leave the house without a bag of food in the winter.
  • Дават ли ти — еж, гонят ли те — беж!
    When they give, eat, when they chase, run.
    Take what you can get and take life as it comes.
  • Ядене върху ядене върви, само бой върху бой не върви.
    Food after food is okay, beating after a beating is not.


  • Уйде коня у ряката.
    Went the horse into the river [sic].
    This is said when something’s happened and it’s too late to reverse it, often through negligence or not paying enough attention. Presumably a horse going into a river is an irreversibly bad thing.
  • Удари го през просото.
    Went right through the wheat.
    Took the most direct, if destructive, route without any regard for the consequences.
  • Умислил се, като че ли са му потънали гемиите.
    He’s morose as if his trade ships have sunk.
  • Хвани единия, удари другия.
    Grab one, smack the other.
    Usually meaning that two or more people are equally guilty and worthy of a beating.
  • Храни куче да те лае.
    Feed a dog, and it barks at you.
    An expression used in cases of ingratitude.
  • Кучетата лаят, керванът си върви.
    The dogs are barking, but the caravan keeps going.
    The pestering of unimportant people cannot affect the course of grand events. Alternatively, the government will do whatever it wants regardless of what the people think.
  • Сложил си таралеж в гащите.
    He stuck a hedgehog in his pants.
    He did something that will cause trouble for him.

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§ 2 Responses to “Went the Horse Into the River”: Proverbs and Expressions

  • Pesho says:

    “На вълка затова му е дебел вратът, защото сам си върши работата.
    The wolf’s neck is think because he does his own work.
    Doing your own hard work will make you stronger.”

    Thick или think ? 😀

  • Very informative, thanks! I love this one –>Балък лозе копа, юнак вино пие. !

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