The image of dogs appearing in Vietnamese and English proverbs

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The image of dogs appearing in

Vietnamese and English proverbs

Student: Doan Thanh Phuong

Class: 4B07

English-Vietnamese Comparative Linguistics 2010

Instructor: Dr. Nguyễn Ngọc Vũ

HCMC, December 2010, a reliable website, states that proverb is “a short pithy saying in frequent and widespread use that expresses a basic truth or practical precept”, and according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, proverb is “a well-known phrase or sentence that gives advice or says something that is generally true”.

Proverbs in each country can reflect its diversity in a large space of life, from very little things to the biggest ones.

During the process of working, socializing, and observing, people gained their own acquisition and knowledge of the world around them, and then they used proverbs to express their ideas about it. It could be about the lessons of failure or experiences of success. It could also be knowledge of science or feelings of life. And then, it would be spread out and handed down to posterity. It would be experienced and affirmed from generations to generations.

The philosophy raised in proverbs is not the same as the one raised by philosophers. It does not use any terminologies but some simple things taken from daily life to show the experienced lessons, and it even becomes lodestars for human’s behaviors. How much the philosophy of proverbs can be spread out depends on the spread of life’s circle.

One of the simple things used in proverbs is the image of animals, especially pets such as dogs or cats. This essay will focus on the image of dogs appearing in Vietnamese and English proverbs.

According to the statistics published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in the National Pet Owner Survey in 2009–2010, it is estimated there are 77.5 million dog owners in the United States. Dogs have lived and worked with humans in so many roles that they have earned the unique nickname, "man's best friend". Therefore, in Vietnamese and English proverbs, the appearance of the image of dogs is quite frequent. For examples:

  • In Vietnamese:

Chó cậy nhà, gà cậy vườn.

Chó gầy hổ mặt người nuôi.

Chó sủa là chó không cắn.

Đánh chó ngó chủ nhà.

Lạc đàn nắm đuôi chó, lạc ngõ nắm đuôi trâu.

Chó treo mèo đậy.

Có tiền chó hóa kỳ lân, không tiền kỳ lân hóa chó.

Mỡ gà thì gió, mỡ chó thì mưa.

Treo đầu dê bán thịt chó.

Sống dương gian ăn miếng dồi chó, thác xuống âm phủ biết có mà ăn.

Con không chê cha mẹ khó, chó không chê chủ nghèo.

Vợ dữ mất họ, chó dữ mất láng giềng.

Yêu chó, chó liếm mặt.

Chó có chê cứt thì người mới chê tiền.

Chó ba khoanh mới nằm, người ba năm mới nói.

Thông gia là bà con tiên, ăn ở chẳng hiền là bà con chó.

  • In English:

Every dog has its day.

Give a dog a bad name (and it will hang him).

Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.

Let the tail wag the dog.

You cannot teach the old dog new tricks.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

A barking dog seldom bites.

Better be the head of a dog then the tail of a lion.

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.

Even the dogs in the street know.

Dogs of the same street bark alike.

A good dog deserves a good bone.

Two dogs fight for a bone and a third runs away with it.

He who has a mind to beat his dog will easily find a stick.

Dog does not eat dog.

Many dogs may easily worry one.

While the dogs growled at each other, the wolves devoured the sheep.

The number of proverbs in one country can never be fixed; therefore, it is hard to say whether that of Vietnamese outnumbers English or vice versa. In this essay, the quantity of Vietnamese and English proverbs concerning dogs will not be mentioned. I will just focus on some proverbs I have listed above and analyze them to make the comparison clearer.

Dogs are considered having many good characteristics which make them become the best pet-friends of human beings, such as loyalty or intelligence. However, it seems that the image of dogs appearing in Vietnamese proverbs is quite different from that in English.

To be clearer, I myself find that to Vietnamese, dog is still more like a low-rank animal with lots of bad habits, which also come into proverbs to mainly describe some negative situations in society or terrible characteristics of humans. For example:

Treo đầu dê bán thịt chó”

This proverb is not much difficult to guess its meaning. It indicates the kind of person who is knavish yet showing himself as nice ones to do carry out his evil intention – a two-faced person.

Or “Yêu chó, chó liếm mặt”

This is somehow like a piece of advice. If you cherish and cosset someone too much, they may take advantage and disrespect you.

From this proverb, we can easily infer that the act of dog licking face is not welcomed in Vietnam. People here consider it as a disrespectful deed. This is a little bit different from the other country where people love dog licking their faces for it is the act of showing closeness and friendliness:

doglick.jpg salman-dabbu-dog.jpg

am11021000121.jpg witner-dog-licking-face.jpg

To English people, dog is far more than just a pet. It is like a friend, a partner whom people can lean on when they are lonely or have troubles. Hence, the image of dogs appearing in English proverbs seems to be more positive than that in Vietnamese. For example:

Every dog has its own day”

This is a quite popular saying in English, which means everyone, sooner or later, will have his chance to be successful or lucky in life.

Or “A good dog deserves a good bone”

It is the same meaning as “One good turn deserves another”, which indicates that if you do something good for others, there will be something good coming back to you.

However, it is not that there is no good image of dogs in Vietnamese proverbs or no bad of that in English ones. For example, Vietnamese people also have positive proverbs concerning dogs, such as “Con không chê cha mẹ khó, chó không chê chủ nghèo” to bring out the loyalty of dogs, which is never betraying their owners even though they are in poverty; or “Lạc đàn nắm đuôi chó, lạc ngõ nắm đuôi trâu” to indicate the intelligence of dogs.

Proverbs are consistent sentences which merely show the experiences of life and give pieces of advice for people; hence, most of them (concerning dogs) (both in Vietnamese and English) are neutral, which means the image of dogs is neither bad nor good. For example:

Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself” (Don’t pay someone money to do your tasks and then do it yourself) is used as a piece of advice,

or “Dogs of the same street bark alike” (People from the same background have the same behavior) is used as a fact or a truth which is proved during life experience,

or “Give a dog a bad name (and it will hang him)” (A person will be in a hopeless plight if his reputation is blackened) is used as a fact or a piece of advice for people trying not to lose their credit,

or “Chó gầy hổ mặt người nuôi”, “Chó sủa là chó không cắn”, “Đánh chó ngó chủ nhà”.

However, it will be hard for learners to understand the meanings of these proverbs without having knowledge of their origins. For example, people come from other country may not understand what the proverb “Chó treo mèo đậy” means. This is the result of people’s daily-observing process after quite a long time living close to dogs and cats. They have learned the fact that to be protected food from dogs, food should to be hung higher for dogs cannot jump high and from cats, it should be covered.

Accordingly, the more you learn the proverbs and their origins of one country, the more you can understand its culture, and it will certainly help you a lot in language teaching.

In my own opinion, teacher understanding English and Vietnamese proverbs (through the image of dogs particularly) can be better at guiding his students to understand the culture of the target language and helping them feel more interested in studying the beauty of the language also. To be clearer, when you teach English proverbs, you cannot merely explain their meanings to your students but you have to put them into a specific context and even compare them to Vietnamese ones with similar meanings. For example, with the English proverb “Dogs of the same street bark alike”, instead of explaining it for your students by translating it into “Những chú chó sống trên cùng một con đường sủa tiếng như nhau”, it will be better to borrow the adequate one in Vietnamese like “Ngưu tầm ngưu, mã tầm mã”. By this way, your students may feel the beauty of language and find it interesting to discover more.

Proverbs can reflect not only the experiences or knowledge of people using them but also the procedure of development of the country. They are changing day by day and let we know that so life is and people are. From this narrow essay, I hope that people may find it interesting in studying proverbs, both in English and Vietnamese, for understanding other country’s proverbs and comparing them with ours, we can see the beauty of our own language, and vice versa.

Works Cited

Dog. (2005). Retrieved 2010, from Online Oxford Dictionary of English:

Dog. (2010). Retrieved 2010, from Wikipedia:

English proverbs. (2010). Retrieved 2010, from Wikiquote:

English Proverbs. (2010). Retrieved 2010, from IDIOMS-TODAY:

Idioms. (2010). Retrieved 2010, from The Free Dictionary:

Jose, S. (2004, 2 16). “give a dog a bad name and hang him”. Retrieved 2010, from Know Your English:

Martin, G. (1996). English Proverbs. Retrieved 2010, from The Phrase Finder:

Những câu ca dao & tục ngữ vui về chó. (2000). Retrieved 2010, from GSD Vietnam:

Những câu ca dao hay về chó. (2008, 5 22). Retrieved 2010, from Viet Pet:

Thành ngữ, tục ngữ về chó....Chó dại có mùa, người dại quanh năm. (2008). Retrieved 2010, from Yahoo! 360plus:

Torbert, M. (1999). English sayings and English Proverbs. Retrieved 2010, from Proverbs and English sayings:

Wehmeier, S. (2006). proverb. In Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (p. 1169). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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