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By the horns

(No.1, Vol.5,Jan-Feb 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)


A Dong Ho painting
depicting the game of ‘Catching a goat while blindfolded’
Photo: Internet


Goats, a familiar, unique and meaningful household animal, are also used as a sharp and humorous metaphor, in Vietnamese proverbs and folklore.
*‘Sell a cow to buy a goat for farming’, (Bán bò tậu ruộng mua dê về cày) meaning to run a business in a stupid way or exchange a useful thing for something useless.
*‘Catching a goat while blindfolded’ (Bịt mắt bắt dê), means to do something difficult, infeasible.
* ‘Goat and duck, blah, blah’ (Cà kê dê ngỗng), meaning to talk non-stop, not making sense, jump between topics.
*‘Herding goats and drinking snow’ (Chăn dê uống tuyết), meaning to endure any hardship that comes one’s way to achieve one’s purpose.
*‘Young goats, itchy in the horns’ (Dê non ngứa sừng), meaning youngsters tend to love confrontation.


Vietnamese proverbs for the year of the goat


*‘Old goat pretending young deer’ (Dê già lại giả nai), meaning this is to unmask a perverted and tricky person who pretends to be naïve.
*‘Beat it like a sacrificial goat’ (Đánh như đánh dê tế đền), meaning to beat incessantly, without mercy, to make the victim cry as loud and as much as possible. (In big celebrations, people used to sacrifice three animals, including buffalo, pig and goat. Before killing the goat, they would beat it, believing that the crying and sweating would remove the bad odour from the meat.)
*‘Rich at the horse hour, poor at the goat hour’ (Giàu giờ ngọ, khó giờ mùi), meaning life can change quickly.
*‘The rich grow dogs, the poor grow goats, and the jobless grow geese’ (Giàu nuôi chó, khó nuôi dê, không nghề nuôi ngỗng), meaning one should choose to do what is suitable to oneself and conditions.
*‘Being a dog or a goat’ (Làm thân dê chó), meaning one has to fawn and serve somebody else.
*‘Ploughing with a goat for not having a buffalo’ (Không có trâu bắt dê đi đầm), meaning to use a person or tool not suitable for a job or without a suitable tool, one has to improvise something makeshift.
*‘Goat or cow alike’ (Máu bò cũng như tiết dê), meaning two irrelevant, unrelated (both in form and content) things or issues.
*‘Fixing the barn after the goats are gone’ (Mất dê rồi mới sửa chuồng), meaning to do things when it is too late.
* ‘Hanging goat to sell dog’ (Treo đầu dê bán thịt chó), meaning words and actions don’t match, like a restaurant that hangs a goat head as a sign but that sells dog meat instead.

By Phong Hoa
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