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Pointless effort

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There is a saying in Japanese "kappa ni suiren" which translates as "swimming lessons for a kappa". (A "kappa" is a mythical river imp / water dwelling monster). The only similar expressions that I can think of in English are: "Teach your grandmother to suck eggs!" (which I haven't heard anyone use in a long time) and "Carry coal(s) to Newcastle". I'm looking for an "refran" in Spanish that conveys this sense. The sort of thing that can be said to someone who has just tried to "teach/explain" something that you were already well aware of; along the lines of "Tell me something that I don't know!" (but a "refran" not just a translation).

7008 views
updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie

18 Answers

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LadyDi said:

In Spanish, I've heard the saying, "Descubrió el agua tibia," as in he/she thinks he/she discovered something grand even though it's more like common knowledge. There's another that says, "enseñándole a su mamá a hacer hijos," but I've only ever heard my mother tell me this so I don't know if it's appropriate to say to anyone else.


"enseñándole a su mamá a hacer hijos" Now, that one, I really like!

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
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James Santiago said:

It was first recorded in 1707 in a translation by John Stevens of the collected comedies of the Spanish playwright Quevedo: 'You would have me teach my Grandame to suck Eggs'.

Fascinating! I couldn't find the original Spanish anywhere, but that would certainly answer samdie's question.


Indeed it would! Of course if it were to turn out that the reason I learned the expression in English was because of reading something by Quevedo, I'd be very embarrassed.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
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In Spanish, I've heard the saying, "Descubrió el agua tibia," as in he/she thinks he/she discovered something grand even though it's more like common knowledge. There's another that says, "enseñándole a su mamá a hacer hijos," but I've only ever heard my mother tell me this so I don't know if it's appropriate to say to anyone else.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by LadyDi
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It was first recorded in 1707 in a translation by John Stevens of the collected comedies of the Spanish playwright Quevedo: 'You would have me teach my Grandame to suck Eggs'.

Fascinating! I couldn't find the original Spanish anywhere, but that would certainly answer samdie's question.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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samdie said:

James Santiago said:

Nope. And far from being clear in meaning, it only raises questions in my mind. Why would anyone suck an egg? How exactly would one suck an egg? Why would a grandmother be regarded as an expert in this activity? Why not a grandfather? And so on.

You make a hole (1 cm, say) in the end and suck out the contents. Saves the hassle of cooking the egg. No reason (that I know) of why it couldn't be a grandfather. Could be that grandmothers are more likely to collect and prepare eggs and, therefor, the direct beneficiaries of such "labor saving".

I suspect that the grand---|-- stems from egg-sucking being considered an old-fashioned custom even when the saying was coined.

Found this on the net

TEACHING ONE'S GRANDMOTHER TO SUCK EGGS

[Q] From Jonathan Downes: 'I wonder if you would care to explain a phrase in wide use but rather odd in its direct meaning: teaching your grandmother to suck eggs? (This has been in use by my parents, both in their 70s).?

[A] It does look odd, but its meaning is clear enough: don't give needless assistance or presume to offer advice to an expert. As that prolific author, Anon, once wrote:

Teach not thy parent's mother to extract
The embryo juices of the bird by suction.
The good old lady can that feat enact,
Quite irrespective of your kind instruction.

Many similar expressions have been invented down the years, such as Don't teach your grandmother how to milk ducks, and don't teach your grandmother to steal sheep. These have the same kind of absurd image as the version you quote, which has survived them all. It was first recorded in 1707 in a translation by John Stevens of the collected comedies of the Spanish playwright Quevedo: 'You would have me teach my Grandame to suck Eggs'. Another early example, whimsically inverted, is in Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, published in 1749: 'I remember my old schoolmaster, who was a prodigious great scholar, used often to say, Polly matete cry town is my daskalon. The English of which, he told us, was, That a child may sometimes teach his grandmother to suck eggs'.

But the idea is very much older. There was a classical proverb A swine to teach Minerva, which was translated by Nichola Udall in 1542 as to teach our dame to spin, something any married woman of the period would know very well how to do. And there are other examples of sayings designed to check the tendency of young people to give unwanted advice to their elders and betters.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by Eddy
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James Santiago said:

Nope. And far from being clear in meaning, it only raises questions in my mind. Why would anyone suck an egg? How exactly would one suck an egg? Why would a grandmother be regarded as an expert in this activity? Why not a grandfather? And so on.
You make a hole (1 cm, say) in the end and suck out the contents. Saves the hassle of cooking the egg. No reason (that I know) of why it couldn't be a grandfather. Could be that grandmothers are more likely to collect and prepare eggs and, therefor, the direct beneficiaries of such "labor saving".

I suspect that the grand---|-- stems from egg-sucking being considered an old-fashioned custom even when the saying was coined.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
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Natasha said:

samdie said:

steve said:

Would'nt "preaching to the choir" sound closer in english?

That has some overlap but I think it's more concerned with the idea of people who don't need to be convinced of something because they already believe it rather than the idea of something that they already know.

The Japanese saying you describe, and "carrying coals to Newcastle," don't seem to have quite the same meaning. To me, "carrying coals to Newcastle" means working very hard at something which is inherently ridiculous.

Hi Natasha
Your description is not the exact meaning of carrying coals to Newcastle. Newcastle on Tyne in England was a well known coal mining area and the UK's first coal exporting port. So to take coals there just seemed a pointless excercise. Just as explaining something to someone who already knows what you are explaining.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by Eddy
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I was thinking that you, of all people, might have heard this from your grandmother.

Nope. And far from being clear in meaning, it only raises questions in my mind. Why would anyone suck an egg? How exactly would one suck an egg? Why would a grandmother be regarded as an expert in this activity? Why not a grandfather? And so on.

I hadn't heard "kappa no kawanagare" and I'll certainly try to remember it.

It is used fairly often.

P.S. You use a Kenkyusha to look up English proverbs'!

I use it to find English equivalents of Japanese proverbs. My Kotowaza Jiten (Dictionary of Proverbs) is only in Japanese.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled Spanish programming...

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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Natasha said:

"Teaching philosophy to Socrates"?
That's certainly the sense and I suppose I could invent a bunch more (Einstein/physics, etc) but I was hoping for something that had already achieved the status of "an old saw".

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
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James Santiago said:

I had never heard the "suck eggs" saying you quoted, although it is indeed listed in my Kenkyusha. To me it is meaningless.
I was thinking that you, of all people, might have heard this from your grandmother. I don't think that I've ever seen anything reliable about it's origin but, for me, it has always seemed to have a "rural" flavor.

I hadn't heard "kappa no kawanagare" and I'll certainly try to remember it. "saru mo ki kara ochiru" was, I believe, the first proverb that I ever learned in Japanese.

P.S. You use a Kenkyusha to look up English proverbs'!

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
0
votes

'''''? (You rang')

This saying isn't that commonly heard in Japanese, but it is synonymous with "gokuraku no iriguchi de nenbutsu o uru" (literally, "sell Buddhist chants at the gates of Paradise") and "shaka ni seppou" (literally, "preaching to Buddha"). It is used to mean telling something to someone who already knows it well, as you say, but also to mean wasting a lot of effort to do something unnecessary. (I can quote the definitions in Japanese from my Kotowaza Jiten if you want.)

I had never heard the "suck eggs" saying you quoted, although it is indeed listed in my Kenkyusha. To me it is meaningless.

For the first of the above two meanings, in English we might say "You're teaching a fish to swim." This is not an established proverb, but it sounds natural and the meaning is obvious. And I imagine that the same applies to "Estás enseñando a nadar a un pez."

For the second of the above two meanings, we might say "You are spinning your wheels," or "You're going nowhere fast." There are probably other expressions, but my mind is blank at the moment. To help NSS's on the forum, the literal meaning here would be "Estás perdiendo energías en un empleo sin futuro" or "Estás esforzándote mucho pero no estás logrando nada."

Incidentally, another proverb involving the kappa is "kappa no kawanagare," which literally means "a river nymph getting washed downstream," and refers to the fact that even skilled people can make mistakes (something that is obvious on this forum!). An equivalent phrase is "saru mo ki kara ochiru," which means "even monkeys fall from trees."

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
0
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samdie said:

Natasha said:

samdie said:

steve said:

Would'nt "preaching to the choir" sound closer in english?

That has some overlap but I think it's more concerned with the idea of people who don't need to be convinced of something because they already believe it rather than the idea of something that they already know.

The Japanese saying you describe, and "carrying coals to Newcastle," don't seem to have quite the same meaning. To me, "carrying coals to Newcastle" means working very hard at something which is inherently ridiculous.

True. The way that I've heard the Japanese expression used, the only good equivalent that I know of in English is the grandmother/eggs. However, I suspect that it may be possible (and I just haven't heard it yet) to use the Japanese phrase in a sense that's similar to Newcastle. I was also afraid that the grandmother/eggs expression might be unknown to anyone here, so the coal/Newcastle was intended as a kind of "fallback" explanation.

"Teaching philosophy to Socrates"'

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by Natasha
0
votes

Natasha said:

samdie said:

steve said:

Would'nt "preaching to the choir" sound closer in english?

That has some overlap but I think it's more concerned with the idea of people who don't need to be convinced of something because they already believe it rather than the idea of something that they already know.

The Japanese saying you describe, and "carrying coals to Newcastle," don't seem to have quite the same meaning. To me, "carrying coals to Newcastle" means working very hard at something which is inherently ridiculous.


True. The way that I've heard the Japanese expression used, the only good equivalent that I know of in English is the grandmother/eggs. However, I suspect that it may be possible (and I just haven't heard it yet) to use the Japanese phrase in a sense that's similar to Newcastle. I was also afraid that the grandmother/eggs expression might be unknown to anyone here, so the coal/Newcastle was intended as a kind of "fallback" explanation.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
0
votes

samdie said:

steve said:

Would'nt "preaching to the choir" sound closer in english?

That has some overlap but I think it's more concerned with the idea of people who don't need to be convinced of something because they already believe it rather than the idea of something that they already know.

The Japanese saying you describe, and "carrying coals to Newcastle," don't seem to have quite the same meaning. To me, "carrying coals to Newcastle" means working very hard at something which is inherently ridiculous.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by Natasha
0
votes

Natasha said:

What about "llevar agua al mar"?


Uhm. Not bad.

updated OCT 3, 2008
posted by samdie
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