If it's too good to be true, it probably is

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Josh_, Nov 9, 2007.

  1. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    As I've related before sometimes the simplest phrases in English prove to be very problematic when trying to render them in Arabic. The age old aphoristic platitude "if it's too good to be true, it probably is" is one of those. I was talking with an Arab friend the other day and I wanted to express this idea, but could not think of how to convey it in Arabic. I think the most problematic part of this saying is the "too," but really, the whole thing is difficult. Most of the time "too" be expressed by certain words phrases -- زيادة , أكثر مما ينبغي , etc. -- or is implicit in the word itself -- الكرسي كبير على الولد (the chair is (too) big for the child, هو ثقيل عشان أشيله (Egyptian Arabic) huwwa ti2iil 3ashaan ashiil-u (he is (too) heavy for me to carry), etc. But none of these seem to work in this phrase. Here's my measly attempt at a translation:

    إذا بدا الأمر أنه جيد زيادة أنه يكون حقيقي، فمن المحتمل أنه كذلك

    Anyway, I have two requests:
    1) Is there an equivalent Arabic phrase to express this idea, and if so what is it?
    2) What are your suggestion(s) on how to translate this phrase into Arabic?
  2. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    I would say: إذا بدا الأمر وكأنه أفضل من أن يكون حقيقي، فهو على الأغلب كذلك. This is for the translation, but I doubt anyone would understand it as you would in English. I keep feeling that the phrase فهو على الأغلب كذلك seems to mean that it is probably true, not probably "too good to be true". So if you want to express it in Arabic I would advise: إذا بدا الأمر وكأنه حلم/خيال/غير حقيقي، فهو على الأغلب كذلك.

    Regarding your first reqest, I don't recall any proverb or idom that could express the idea. There may be one that I don't know.
  3. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Marhaba Josh!This expression ,though it is difficult to translate, seems to me similar to the Arabic saying":
    ما كان بالامكان افضل مما كان
    This expression is said when a thing go wrong for you.For instance,when I study hard , have an exam and the outcome is not what I expected.It is against my expectation though I struggled and did my best at that exam.
  4. clevermizo Senior Member

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    I agree with Mahaodeh that the translation with حقيقي and subsequently كذلك sounds like your probably saying "It is true" rather than the intended "it is not true, although it sounds nice."

    Actually, this is the fundamental problem I have with this English expression. I'm actually staring at and not understanding my native language:(. The second half of the expression, which I have culturally memorized, is logically problematic to me. "...then it probably is _____" is elliptical; that's all well and good. There are only 2 possible antecedents for the ellipsis given the idiom in isolation: true, and too good to be true.

    If the antecedent is too good to be true, then what you are saying is: "If it is too good to be true, then it is probably too good to be true." This sounds like a pretty useless conditional. "If X is A, then X is A."

    If the antecedent is true, then you are saying: "If it is too good to be true, then it is probably true." This may be the case, but the idiom would have the understanding be otherwise. In fact the understanding is: "If it is too good to be true, then it is probably false."

    I had never really thought about how much I dislike this expression until right this moment.:eek:

    Personally I think, the expression would make more sense this way:

    "If it sounds/seems too good to be true, then it probably is (too good to be true)." If anything, this was helped in the translations suggested by using the verb بدا in Arabic, but in English it is so common not to say the verb "seems/sounds" here.
  5. clevermizo Senior Member

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    This isn't really the intention behind the English expression. The idea is, suppose I get a letter in the mail saying that if I just receive and mail out envelopes from my home once a month, I can increase my income by $1,000,000 USD every month. It sounds amazing - but so amazing that it cannot possibly be true and is probably just a scam/deception.
  6. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    The expression is " if it looks too good to be true it probably is." The word looks is essential to make sense here. As Clevermizo says it is usually a scam. It tells us that we can observe the situation and know something is wrong but in some cases we ignore our instincts and get deceived. If we omit " looks" it does not convey the right meaning. cf. the song you are too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you.
  7. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Clevermizo, thank you for your example.
    Here are another ones:
    إذا ثبتت فعلاً صحة كذا
    إذا تحقق فعلاً
    إذا ظهر فعلاً
    إذا تبين فعلاً
  8. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Thank you guys for your responses. Yeah, I guess I also had never really thought about the phrase as it we, as Americans, know it by rote. It is necessary to add something to the Arabic translation in order to get to the intended meaning.

    Also, I realized I did make a mistake. The phrase usually does include either a 'seems' or a 'sounds' or a 'looks.' I was actually thinking about "if it sounds too good ..." as I was translating the phrase, but for some reason I did not type it in here.
  9. Tilmeedh Senior Member

    English (Canada)
    This is a great thread, Josh. I hardly use this expression, if ever, and usually say "It's too good to be true" instead: "Someone just called to tell me I've won a free vacation to Cuba this summer, and I've never even heard of their company. It's too good to be true."

    How might one translate the above?
  10. dkarjala Senior Member

    English - America
    A complicating factor here is that 'too good to be true' is already idiomatic. What it expresses, in my mind, is that something is "good to the point that it arouses suspicion" or "so good you can't believe it's true". So first we might rephrase it as

    "If something is so good that you can hardly believe it, there is probably a drawback to it"

    And now ask a native speaker to search for something comparable again.

  11. shafaq Senior Member

    Regarding past posts; there is no known idiomatic equivalent fulfills this expression...

    Albeit I am not a native speaker; what stops me making up...; just might be an idiom:rolleyes::

    اذ انه في منتهاء الروعة حيث يستدعي الأستحالة فتوقع بها! ة​
    If it's too good to be true, it probably is

    too good to be true
    شيء في منتهاء الروعة عديم الصحة
    شيء في منتهاء الروعة حيث يعتلّ باللاستحالة​
    شيء في منتهاء الروعة بقدر المستحيل​

    Doesn't fit ...? Wave them goodby !
  12. be.010 Senior Member

    Arabic (Syrian)
    We have a common saying in Syria that probably meets with this one at some point.
    من إيش عرفتا كذبة؟ من كبرا
    Lit. "how did you know it was a lie? because it's too big."
    Said usually when someone has said something too extreme/great/ or too good to be true, that it is obviously not true and unbelievable.:)
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2009
  13. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Perfect, be.010! :thumbsup:

    In Palestinian Arabic, we often say الكذبة بتعرفها من كبرها (il-kizbe bti3rafha min kuburha), which would work quite well as a translation of the title sentence.
  14. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    اذا كان الشيء أحلى بالدرجة كأنه غير حقيقي اذن فعلاً هو كذلك
  15. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I'm sorry, but this sentence doesn't make much sense in Arabic.
  16. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    I was going to also suggest بالغاية
    But please elaborate.
  17. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Okay, for one, أحلى بالدرجة كأنه غير حقيقي is not a correct construction. You could say أحلى/أجمل من أن يكون حقيقيًا. If you wanted to use للغاية (not بالغاية), you would have to say جميل للغاية إلى درجة أنه يبدو غير حقيقي.

    Also, إذن فعلاً هو كذلك is unclear. It's not clear what كذلك refers to.

    I think the problem is that the English sentence, as others have said, isn't technically logical (even though it's commonly used and perfectly understood), so trying to translate it literally won't work.

    Here's a suggestion: إذا كان/بدا الشيء/الأمر أروع من أن يصدق فهو على الأرجح غير حقيقي/صحيح
  18. Djamel24 Senior Member

    Arabic - Algerian Arabic
    Okay, I don't know about you guys, but for my money "تُعرَف الكذبة من كبرها" suggested by 'elroy' is a great translation. It perfectly conveys the meaning, because when you say "if it's too good to be true, it probably is," you're implying it's (most probably) a lie, which is what "تُعرَف الكذبة من كبرها" happens to imply, too.
    So meaning, check!
    Also, they're both just as idiomatic. So, vernacular, check!
    And that makes it, IMO, a great translation.

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