One morning last week while I was visiting my Dad, I accompanied him to the local Whataburger restaurant in my hometown of Mission, Texas. A part of Dad’s new morning routine is to eat breakfast at Whataburger with his brother and several of their local retired friends, including my kindergarten teacher. On the morning that I attended this informal gathering of old friends, they got into a spirited discussion of “dichos sabios” or wise sayings. Every culture has their “dichos” — sayings, proverbs, and nuggets of folk wisdom passed from generation to generation by means of everyday conversation. As a kid growing up in South Texas, dichos were the spice of parental advice. The beautiful thing about dichos is that they have their own rhyme and rhythm that makes them easy to remember but often harder to translate. Nevertheless, these little sayings are pregnant with wisdom. Here are a few of my favorites. Even if you don’t speak or read Spanish, try sounding out these dichos to get a sense of their rhythm.
A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda. | Translation: God helps the one who gets up early. This dicho is related to “the early bird gets the worm” and is an admonition to work hard.
Acabándose el dinero, se termina la amistad. | Translation: When the money runs out (or ends) so do friends (friendships). This dicho addresses fair-weather friends who stay around as long as they can benefit. The prodigal son discovered that as soon as he ran out of money he had no friends left to help him (Luke 15:11-32).
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente. | Translation: The current carries away the sleeping shrimp. This dicho cautions against slothful and lazy living.
El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo. | Translation: The Devil knows more because he is old than because he is the Devil. This dicho reminds us that experience is the best teacher.
La lengua del mal amigo más corta que el cuchillo. | Translation: The tongue of a bad friend cuts deeper than a knife.
Para un niño con un martillo, todo es un clavo. | Translation: To a child with a hammer, everything is a nail.
El que quiere baile, que pague músico. | Translation: The one who wants to dance should pay the musician. This dicho teaches that the one who wants to see something happen should take responsibility for making it happen.
Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde. | Translation: We will never lose what we learn well.
Si quieres el perro, acepta las pulgas. | Translation: If you want the dog, accept the fleas. Regardless of what you do, every endeavor or profession has its respective challenges.
Del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho. | Translation: There is a great distance between word and deed. This dicho is akin to the old saying, “It’s easier said than done.”
Despacio voy, porque de prisa estoy. | Translation: I am progressing slowly because I am in a hurry. This dicho reminds us that it is better to take the time to do things right than to have to make the time to make them right. Or, in the words of the carpenter, “Take the time to measure twice and then cut once.”
Mejor solo que mal acompañado. | Translation: It’s better to be alone than to be with bad company. The Apostle Paul cautioned the Corinthians, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Cor. 1:33)
These are just a few samples from among hundreds of dichos. Every culture has their respective collection of folk sayings and proverbs. For example, last November I posted a blog entitled Cowboy Proverbs — a sampling of popular folk wisdom from the Old West. I encourage you to spend some time with parents and grandparents to discover some of the timeless truths that have been shared across your family’s generations. You may just discover some “dichos sabios” that you can pass on to the next generation.