Il piatto del vicino è sempre più buono

I was walking my faithful dog in what could only be described as monsoon conditions, and ignoring the rain, and focusing instead on an Italian podcast when I heard:-

Il piatto del vicino è sempre più buono.

Literally, this means ‘the dish of the neighbour is always better’, and I suppose we should also add ‘than mine’.

The English equivalent is  ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’, often shortened to ‘the grass is always greener’.

The Italian version that I had come across previously was:

l’erba del vicino è sempre più verde.

This literally has the meaning ‘the grass of the neighbour is always greener’.

I wondered if this was a witty play on words, and so I googled finding:-

Il panino del vicino è sempre più buono

Il cibo del vicino è davvero sempre più interessante?

Il fumo del vicino è sempre più buono

I’m assuming that these are all variations on an Italian theme.

As it was still raining and miserable, and like a rat after a terrier, or a dog after a bone, I was intrigued with my initial results and continued on the same theme.

I wondered what the French version would be. Now according to  this word reference thread it is:

l’herbe est toujours plus verte ailleurs

which seems extremely close to the English (as does the Italian version), which begs the question as to which is the original version, and where did it come from.

I googled some more and found (Ovid):-

fertilior seges est alienis semper in agris vicinum que pecus grandius uber habet

I translated this as:-

The most fertile crop is always in the fields of another  and he has the most fertile cattle.

It is claimed in some quarters that this is the origin of ‘the grass is always greener’. It may well express the same sentiment as our modern version but it is unlikely in the extreme that there is any kind of link between the two. Anyway Ovid distinctly mentions cattle, missing in the modern version.

In my travels, actually in my Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (in which there is neither hide not hair of ‘the grass is always greener’) I also came across:

Hills are green far away.

which I will now use as a substitute.

Essentially, despite some enjoyable research, I found nothing of any use to the original question as to the origins of either ‘Il piatto del vicino è sempre più buono …’ or the grass is …

I’ve always found it intriguing how many (almost) word for words translations exist between proverbs in Italian, Spanish and English.

I wonder if some of them entered the English language through French back in the day?

I’ll get back to you on that …



Entre chien et loup

You have to hand it to the French. They have some brilliant expressions.

I’ve just come across ‘entre chien et loup’, a phrase which describes the time of day which in English we call ‘twilight’.

Twilight is the time of day, early morning or late evening,  when the sun is not directly visible and the light (such as it is) is merely sunlight reflected in the upper atmosphere.

Digressing slightly, the word ‘dusk’ is the darkest part of twilight. The minutes or seconds before the last rays of the sun (bouncing about in the upper atmosphere) disappear and all becomes inky black. Or not if you live in a city. Dusk only refers to the evening twilight.

‘Entre chien et loup’ or in English ‘between dog and wolf’ is the time of day (or night) when we can make out the outlines/shadows or silhouettes or objects but can’t exactly distinguish between them.

Is that a wolf? Or maybe my hound?  Or a monster …

Besos and baci,


Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

I like this expression and use it in English a lot. It happened to be todays expression (from 365 Days of French Expressions), so I thought I’d learn it in Spanish and Italian.

A cheval donné on ne regarde pas les dents

A caballo regalado no se le mira el diente

A caval donato non si guarda in bocca

Besos, bacis y pax.


Refranes (proverbs)

One of the things that I find fascinating with languages are proverbs often encapsulating some pearl of wisdom or  folk knowledge from years gone by and sometimes just plain cryptic.

I also love idioms, and find it fascinating how other languages use (often in a very similar) almost identical idioms.

For example, te has comido la lengua el gate ‘has the cat got your tongue’,  (this was often said to me by my grandmother) probably when I had committed some transgression.

Or how about llevarse el gato al agua as in a pesar de que era casi impossibile, finalmente me he  llevado el gato al agua  meaning to achieve something almost impossible. The equivalent in  english is  ‘it was like herding cats’. I.e. herding cats is something that is basically impossible. (I remember trying to place two cats in a cat box. I was wearing thick gardening gloves and still ended up bloody and scratched).

As I seem to be on a cat related theme what about ‘there is not enough room to swing a cat’? I don’t think that there is an equivalent Spanish cat related size idiom. (BTW you do know that the cat doesn’t refer to the four legged creature in this case – don’t you?).

Or how about cuatro gatos  with the meaning very few people, so in Spanish you can say somos cuatro gatos ‘there are only a few of us’ or no no habìa màs que cuatro gatos ‘there was hardly anyone there’ or maybe ‘there were four men and a dog’, ‘it was like a graveyard’, ‘like a ghost town’ …

I bet you can’t guess what ‘she has blond hair and big blue eyes’ stands for in Polish 🙂

Hugs & besos,


Proverbs, Idioms and what comes next

Sup with you?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I should probably be building an ark. I live in the south west of England, also known as the west country, and it hasn’t stopped raining. Those climate change deniers should be ashamed of themselves. Muppets.

I’m still wet and cold from the morning dog walk. Furthermore,  there are muddy paw prints all over the house.

Back in the virtual world, I’ve started adding sections on Proverbs and Spanish idioms to Surface languages.  I’ll add explanations and audio over time.  Many of the proverbs are ones that I particularly like or find amusing or interesting for some reason. If you have favourite proverbs/idioms in (foreign) languages (and tell me) I’ll add them over time.

The same can be said for idioms. I have a lot which I will add to SL as and when. I’ve been learning Spanish for years, and need somewhere to record the idioms I have learnt – before I forget them.

What comes next?

Surface Languages is always a work in progress, and occasionally I write lists of what I intend or would like to add.  Sometimes I ignore these lists but also it isn’t always easy to find translators (for example) in a specific language.

In no particular order :-

Add the  Belarusian language.

Add a clock game for Polish and Spanish. I’m learning to tell the time in Polish. And struggling. So what better way to help me than add some neat ‘telling the time’ clock type game.

Add audio for the Spanish proverbs and idioms.