Translating idiomatic phrases, expressions, jargon, and proverbs from Serbian into the English language can be a challenge even for translators. I will try to give you an adequate translation of Serbian sayings you need to know.
Bog je prvo sebi bradu stvorio.
Translation: God first created a beard for himself. (Meaning that everybody looks after themselves first)
Čovek sanja, Bog određuje.
Translation: Men wishes(dreams), but God decides.
English equivalent: Man proposes, but God disposes.
Pomozi sam sebi pa će ti i Bog pomoći.
Translation: First help yourself and then God will help you.
English equivalent: God helps those who help themselves.
Bog visoko, a Rusija daleko.
Translation: God is high above, and Russia is far away. (Meaning that help is far and unlikely)
How faith plays an important role in the lives of Serbians, is also shown in the proverbs and sayings above. So, they use them when they want to point out that wisdom seems hard to obtain. Wisdom in general seems to bring our minds to someone with much experience or expertise in an area or someone who makes good judgments. Also, you can use those sayings when you want to point out that wisdom is different from having knowledge. Knowledge is defined as having information through experience, reasoning, or acquaintance. Whereas wisdom is the ability to discern or judge what is true.
Bolje vrabac u ruci, nego golub na grani.
Translation: A sparrow in the hand is better than a pigeon on the branch.
English equivalent: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Čovek je čoveku vuk.
English equivalent: Man is man’s wolf.
Jedna lasta ne čini proleće.
Translation: One swallow does not make a spring.
English equivalent: One swallow does not make a spring.
Kao mačka oko vruće kaše.
Translation: Like the cat around the hot meal.
English equivalent: Beating around the bush.
Mi o vuku, a vuk na vrata.
Translation: (speaking) of the wolf as the wolf (comes) to the door.
English equivalent: Speak of the devil.
Ne kupuj mačka u džaku.
Translation: Don’t buy a cat in a bag.
English equivalent: Don’t buy a pig in a poke.
Praviti od muve slona.
Translation: To make a donkey out of a mosquito.
English equivalent: To make a mountain out of a molehill.
Umiljato jagnje dve ovce sisa.
Translation: Cuddly lamb sucks two ewes.
English equivalent: Flattery will get you anywhere.
Vuk dlaku menja, ali ćud nikada.
Translation: A wolf changes his hair, but never his character.
English equivalent: A leopard can’t change its spots.
Vrana vrani oči ne vadi.
Translation: A crow doesn’t pick out another crow’s eyes.
English equivalent: A thief does not steal from another thief.
Pas koji laje ne ujeda.
Translation: A dog that barks doesn't bite.
English equivalent: His bark is worse than his bite.
We can use those sayings when we want to point out that we humans have a lot to learn from animals. So, we can say one of the proverbs from the list above when we want to say to someone that we should emulate animals. The human character can also be easily interpreted through folk sayings about animals.
Ko drugome jamu kopa sam u nju pada.
Translation: Who digs a trap for others ends up in it himself.
English equivalent: What goes around, comes around.
Ko nema u glavi, ima u nogama.
Translation: Who doesn’t have in his head has in his feet.
English equivalent: Absent-minded do the work twice.
Ko rano rani, dve sreće grabi.
Translation: One who gets up early is doubly lucky.
English equivalent: The early bird gets (catches) the worm.
Ko ume, njemu dve
Translation: The one who’s able gets two.
English equivalent: Skilled worker is paid double.
Na muci se poznaju junaci.
Translation: In trouble, you know a hero.
Odelo ne čini čoveka.
Translation: A suit doesn’t make a man.
English equivalent: You can’t tell a book by its cover.
Tiha voda breg roni.
Translation: Still water wears down mountains./Anything is possible with time.
English equivalent: Still waters run deep.
Ko rano rani, dve sreće grabi.
Translation: He who wakes up early, catches two fortunes.
English equivalent: The early bird catches the worm.
U laži su kratke noge.
Translation: In lies, one has short legs.
English equivalent: A lie has no legs.
Uzdaj se u se i u svoje kljuse.
Translation: Trust yourself and your horse.
English Equivalent: If you want to get things done, do it yourself.
Iver ne pada daleko od klade.
Translation: A splinter doesn’t land far from the trunk.
English equivalent: An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
A large number of proverbs and sayings from the list above created several centuries ago can still be applied to numerous situations and events from the modern way of life. You can use them in everyday situations when you want to point out some good and bad personal characteristics of people around you.
Što možeš danas, ne ostavljaj za sutra.
Translation: Do not leave for tomorrow, things you can do today.
English equivalent: Better now than later.
Vreme je novac.
English equivalent and translation: Time is money.
Digital composite of hand drawing money bag and clock
Sve što je brzo je i kuso.
Translation: Quickly doing things results in a poor ending.
English equivalent: Haste makes waste.
Novac se na novac lepi.
Translation: Money sticks to money.
English equivalent: Money hangs around money.
Sve što je dobro kratko traje.
Translation: All that’s well lasts short.
English equivalent: All good things come to an end.
Bolje ikad nego nikad.
Translation: Better ever than never.
English equivalent: Better late than never.
Sve se vraća sve se plaća.
Translation: Everything has to be returned, everything has to be paid for.
English equivalent: What goes around, comes around.
Ne možeš imati i ovce i novce.
Translation: You can’t have both money and sheep.
English equivalent: You can’t eat your cake and have it too.
Time and money go hand in hand...every businessman or businesswoman knows that. Serbian proverbs on this topic only give more credibility to this well-known fact and you can use them in everyday situations to remind someone not to waste time on not-so-important things.
Bez muke nema nauke.
Translation: Without suffering, there is no learning.
English equivalent: No pain, no gain.
Bolje sprečiti nego lečiti.
Translation: Better to prevent than to have to cure.
English equivalent: Better safe than sorry.
Daleko od očiju, daleko od srca.
Translation: Far from the eyes, far from the heart
English equivalent: Out of sight, out of mind
Gde ima dima ima i vatre.
Translation: Where there is smoke, there is fire too.
English equivalent: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Gvožđe se kuje dok je vruće.
Translation: Iron is worked when it’s still hot.
English equivalent: Strike while the iron is hot.
Ispeci pa reci.
Translation: Bake it and then say it.
English equivalent: Think before you speak.
Kad na vrbi rodi grožđe.
Translation: When willows bear grapes.
English equivalent: When pigs fly.
Kako došlo, tako prošlo.
Translation: The way it came is the way it will go.
English equivalent: Easy come, easy go.
Krv nije voda.
Translation: Blood is not water.
English equivalent: Blood is thicker than water.
Ne trči pred rudu.
Translation: Don’t run in front of a carriage.
English equivalent: Don’t jump the gun.
Nema hleba bez motike
Translation: There’s no bread without a hoe
English equivalent: You cannot make omelets without eggs.
Nema vatre bez dima.
Translation: There is no fire without smoke.
English equivalent: Where there's smoke there is fire.
Nesreća nikad ne dolazi sama.
Translation: Misfortune never comes alone.
English equivalent: When it rains, it pours.
Pored takvih prijatelja što će mi neprijatelji.
Translation: With such friends, one doesn’t need enemies anymore.
English equivalent: With friends like those, who needs enemies?
Prosto ko pasulj.
Translation: As simple as beans.
English equivalent: As easy as pie.
Prvo skoči pa reci hop.
Translation: First leap, and then say “hop”!
English equivalent: Look before you leap.
Ruka ruku mije.
Translation: One hand washes the other.
English equivalent: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava
Translation: Only unity saves the Serbs.
Svuda pođi, kući dođi.
Translation: Go everywhere, but come back home.
English Equivalent: There’s no place like home.
Svakog gosta tri dana dosta.
Translation: Three days of any guest is plenty.
English equivalent: Fish and visitors stink after three days.
Serbian folk proverbs above are short and concise thought sayings, which tell us some advice, a lesson. They are based on an event or life experience. The people say that proverbs are "the torch of speech".