a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse

Discussion in 'English Only' started by celine713, Sep 14, 2006.

  1. celine713 Senior Member

    Does that equal to "to teach a pig to play on a flute"?
    Thanks in advance!
  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The bit about the blind horse is a later addition, I think, to the original expression.

    A nod is as good as a wink means that I have understood your hint, allusion or other indirect comment about something, you needn't say anything more.

    Why the blind horse got harnessed to this expression is beyond me. It certainly must mean something completely different - one futile gesture is as useful (or useless) as any other?

    (I have never heard about pigs and flutes)
  3. celine713 Senior Member

    Yeah, it is kind of strange since I found two contradictory Chinese versions for it, one is the first you have mentioned, the other is something like "the pig and a flute" thing, or "cast pearl before the swine""to play the lute to the cow",why lute? That is a traditional Chinese musical instrument instead of piano in the west, so the version is diversified with local colours.
    Anyway, thank you very much!
  4. want_warm

    want_warm Member

    In Thai language, there's a proverb
    " to play fiddle on a buffalo"
    it means "to explain something difficult to a stupid person" ..it's very difficult to make that person understands what you said.
    in Thailand,"buffalo" represents "very very stupid person".
  5. celine713 Senior Member

    Thank you so much!:thumbsup:
  6. Fredsie Member

    Liverpool England
    British English
    It might be a later addition, but apparently the OED cites

    "1794 Godwin Caleb Williams I. viii. 171 A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse "

    so it's a fairly early later addition :)
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Well, indeed, and of course 1794 is very recent in OED terms - some of its examples come from 800 or so, a mere millennium earlier :D
    1793 J. RITSON Let. 14 Feb. (1833) II. 11 A nod, you know, is as good as a wink to a blind horse.

    As said before: with both nods and winks being useless as communication to a blind horse, this should mean that there is no point in being subtle.
    In fact, it means the opposite: that your subtle communication has been observed and fully understood.

    Ah well, I guess that's English for you:)
  8. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I have always been of the opoinion that the blind horse was any person who was not in the know.
    Two friends can communicate with nods and winks and other subtle methods that are totally obscure to outsiders or blind horses.
    I have seen children chatting away in the most animated fashion while the blind horse of a school teacher was none the wiser.
    I have seen many many messages passed through this forum by people giving nods and winks to collegues using subtle words and phrases that carry so much more meaning than it would appear on the surface to a blind horse.
    There is an air of superiority in the reference to a blind horse because a blind horse will follow almost any direction that it receives whereas a sighted horse is far more discriminating.

  9. Spaceman_Spiff New Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    Englesh USA
    This is true but it helps if the saying is properly punctuated and spoken.

    A nod is as good as a wink (to a blind horse).

    A nod is as good as a wink **pause** to a blind horse.
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    The only thing with pigs and music that I can think of is the quote attributed to Mark Twain:

    "Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig."

    The nod/wink thing I heard as a blind man, not a horse. It could be a regional variation.
  11. keyl Senior Member

    NJ, USA
    Argentina-Spanish / USA
    I have heard/read two different versions of this expression that seem to mean two completely (and opposite) things.

    One is "a wink is as good as a nod to a thoroughbred", meaning that a person who is good at understanding or wise, doesn't need much more than a wink (doesn't need a nod, which is is a much more obvious signal) to get the meaning of what is being communicated. << --- >>

    On the other hand, a much more extended use of a similar expression (the one you are pointing out here) "a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse" where the more subtle signal, the wink, comes after the nod, (meaning the nod is as useless as the wink or anything else, for that matter, to transmit meaning) << --- >>

    Playing the flute to a pig" is new to me and I'll like it.

    I would be careful using any version of the nod/wink expression. I intended to use the idiom as explained in the first paragraph and my interlocutor felt offended, because he obviously knew the second meaning! Oh well!
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 5, 2009

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