Humour in Maltese Proverbs

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There exists a multitude of sayings that are referred to whenever sound advice is required. These are proverbs that have been passed down to us from one generation to the next, some, since going back hundreds of years ago. Sages have mused about particular situations, taken, not least from their own bitter experiences and expressed them in such a way to establish them as unwritten guidelines, yardsticks if you will, that are absorbed into our psyche like a looped cliché. ‘Kliem ix-xiħ żomm fih’,  – always take heed of the old man’s advice, goes the Maltese proverb that heads all proverbs. 

The Maltese have a rich array of proverbs to choose from. One should not dismiss all proverbs as merely warnings that are all dull, sober and negative. Some proverbs actually tend to hold an unusual humorous tone. Amongst some 4,000 Maltese proverbs that are collated in, Il-Qawl Iqul – PEG Malta, 1989, (Eng. ‘The Proverb Says’), one comes across at least fifty sayings that contain a humorous undertone. Whether the humour succeeds to make us smile or laugh is of course a matter of personal reaction, according to each recipient of such advice.

One underlying factor that these humorous sayings are veneered with, is the rhyming of verses, usually in couplets. It is these rhyming quips that help us recall and heed these emphatic warnings. For the proverb to stick it must contain a funny twist at the end of the verse. This twist triggers a reaction, such as, ‘kos hux !’ or ‘mur obsor ħej !’ which in English would be equivalent to, ‘Who would have thought of that!’. We laugh at some of these proverbs, not least because some tend to be aired in a vulgar tone.

Here follows a number of proverbs that bear such traits. Most of these examples, have been picked up from the publication mentioned above. The English translations of the Maltese sayings are my own. Some of the English verses have not been rendered a literal translation, but still adhere to the gist of the tenets being delivered. Whenever the translations are not lucid enough, then a brief clarification follows.

old man xx

  • Aħrab l-iff, il-puff u l-jaqq għax iġibu wġiegħ ta’ żaqq

Avoid all nah!, bah! and ughs! as these cause stomach aches. Note the rhyming of the words jaqq and żaqq.

  • Dana xogħol ta’ ħorrox borrox, imma ż-żebgħa u l-istokk jgħattu kollox

This job belies a quick fix, yet the paint and putty will cover all nicks. Note the words ħorrox borrox and kollox.

  • Ħobż u basal, u strieħ x’ħin tasal

Eat bread and onions and relieve your bunions

We are advised to opt for the easy life and avoid all stress. The word basal (onions), rhymes with tasal (to arrive).

  • Ħares lejn snieni u eħlisni kmieni

Look at my teeth, and let me be served first.

An old person demands that he jumps the queue due to his old age and be served immediately.

  • Ir-raġel tiġieġa, il-mara serduq, id-dar tinqaleb ta’ taħt fuq

If husband plays hen and wife plays cock, then ‘bye bye shalom’

  • Mil-lumi tieħu l-luminata u miċ-ċuċ tieħu ċuċata

From lemons you get lemonade, from a dumbo you get a lamebrain,

old man xx

Here are some proverbs that warn about the economics of life:

  • Biex il-fqir jara xi faraġ, il-fekruna trid titla’ t-taraġ

    .For the poor to be rid of tears, the tortoise needs to crawl all stairs without fear.

Note the word faraġ that rhymes with taraġ.

Bla flus la tgħannaq u lanqas tbus!

‘Without money one can neither hug nor kiss (the bride)’. This proverb warns any person with ambitious plans but boasts of no financial means.

Note the two words that rhyme: ‘flus’, (Eng. money) and tbus – (Eng. to kiss).

  • Għal ħwietem u l-imsielet innisa jgħollu ddbielet

Lured by wedding rings and earrings, women will easily loosen all strings. A sexist joke that accuses women of loose morals once presented with promises of wealth.

  • Jekk ir-raġel jikxef karusu, il-mara tieħdu għal flusu!

Should a man boast of his wealth, his girlfriend will marry him for his riches. Note the rhyming words: karusu (Eng. his money box) with flusu (Eng. his money).

  • Għall-fqir, ilqamar musbieħ, u l-basal tuffieħ

In this proverb, two situations are being presented. Firstly, for the poor man, a moonlit night (M. dawl tal-qamar) is just as good as the light from an oil lamp (musbieħ). The second example proverb states: Eating onions (M. basal) is just as good as eating apples (M. tuffieħ). This means, that for someone of scarce means, one must be content with lesser things.

old man xx

Vulgar language mixed with wit in proverbs tends to elicit a smile.

  • Bassa daħka – fiswa ġlied!

‘Breaking wind produces a laugh, yet, a silent fart stirs up a quarrel’. I will let you ponder on those words of wisdom.

Another proverb that uses the same body orifice as an analogy is the following:

  • Dak li ma joħrox mill-fomm joħroġ mis-sorm

‘That which does not come out of the mouth, comes out from the rear’. This warning suggests that people who do not speak well of you in your face, are bound to  criticise you behind your back.

  • Sorm li qatt ma ra qalziet,kif żanżnu ħara fih

A butt that never wore trousers is bound to soil the first pair he puts on.

old man xx

About the inevitability of death, several stoic warnings have been created:

  • B’riħ jew rifnu, minn hawn ilkoll għandna nsifru !

‘Whether due to a breeze or else a hurricane, we shall all depart in some way or other’

Note the rhyming words rifnu (Eng. hurricane) and insifru (Eng. to travel).

  • Kul u tpaxxa għax minn hawn għal ġol-kaxxa

Eat and feast well because all of us will end in the same way

 (The word kaxxa (Maltese: box, is euphemistic for coffin).

  • Imut il-għani, imut il-fqir, u t-tnejn għal ġewwa l-bir

Both rich and poor shall die, each in a rectangular box must lie

(M. bir ) – a well is a metaphor for grave.

The final stoic, albeit vulgar words of wisdom, refer to the futility of wealth and warn against excessive adherence to worldly riches.

  • Qabda trab u erba kaptelli, u ħarja għal ġid li kelli         

A fistful of dust and four flagstones suffice, I don’t give a shit to my earthly merhandice.

Martin Morana

November 30, 2019

For further reading on the subject of Maltese humour you may be interested to read the book, MALTESE HUMOUR – BUT SERIOUSLY (Malta, 2017). Please click here to obtain a first glimpse of this publication .…

Also click here ….



This book deals with the story of Maltese humour since Roman times up to present.

The author tackles humour both on the individual level as well as that which was and is presented in the theatre and on screen. The writer draws from many past and present anecdotal episodes and situations to elucidate on the genral state of the Maltese psyche. Humour is a two way style of communication that sizes up the temperament of both the presenter as well as the receiver of humour.

Paperback; paġni: 226. Euro 12.95. Available at bookstores …. If you are in Valletta try Agenda or Meli Bookshops.

Also available in ebook format from Amazon Kindle. Price: $.7.30.


paperback - pages: 227
plenty of photos as well as some cartoons
price: Euro 12.95

see other articles on Maltese culture and history ....

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‘Ajjut ….!’ … ‘Help …!’



  1. Good Morning Martin, I enjoyed this article this morning. Some I knew, some are new.
    Charlie De Micoli, NYC


  2. Dwar il-qawl “Dana xogħol ta’ ħorrox borrox, imma ż-żebgħa u l-istokk jgħattu kollox”. Naraħ kważi identiku ma’ dak li jingħad fit-tarzna dwar ix-‘Shipwrights’ u dawk li kienu jibnu jew isewwu l-opri tal-baħar. Aħna ta’ snajja oħra konna ninkuhom billi ngħidu “Putty and paint make the devil a saint!” għax xogħolhom konna nqisuh bħala ta’ kafkaf ħdejn tagħna. Taħseb li dawn iż-żewġ qwiel inħolqu b’mod independi jew wieħed mill-ieħor?
    Grazzi għal kitbietek.


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