mieux vaut une tête bien faite, plutôt qu'une tête bien pleine

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Keith Lyons, Dec 26, 2011.

  1. Keith Lyons Senior Member

    American English
    Dear People:

    Via Balzac & some other French references I've come across the proverbial-sounding phrase
    "Mieux vaut une tete bien faite, plutot qu'une tete bien pleine".

    I know i'm missing accents here -- but what I'm really missing is the crucial sense, the French deep-culture sense of this sentence.

    So this means, kind of, sort of: "better a well structured head than a full head" -- or what? Key phrsaes are "tete bien faite" & "tete bien pleine"?
    This is a reference to order & disorder of some kind?
    Is there a valid, well-targeted, English-language translation (or equivalent proverb?) which anyone knows of or would be so kind as to suggest?

    Thank you ahead of time for whatever input you may have.

    Yours gratefully: -- Keith Lyons
  2. Sacha-Chan Member

    Moi, en tant que jeune française, j'ai l'impression que l'on parle de la beauté du visage dans l'expression "tête bien faite"
    Cela voudrait dire que: "Il vaut mieux être beau plutôt qu'intelligent"
  3. Ros_Bif Senior Member

    English - England
    It's better to have a pretty face than a good brain.
  4. NemoNobody

    NemoNobody Senior Member

    France métropolitaine
    French - France
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2011
  5. Keith Lyons Senior Member

    American English
    Dear all,

    How about: "It's better to have knowledge that's well structured than to be a walking encyclopaedia"?
    Or: "Better to know the path than to be lost in a forest of knowledge"?
    Or: "When it comes to knowledge, quality of contents counts more than quantity"?
    Or: "It's not how much you know but the quality of what you know that matters most" ?

    Would any of these four be a fair, idiomatic translation?

    Isn't it the vernacular tang, after all, that rings the truest?

    Thank you:Keithy Lyons.

    (PS. I agree, the original French phrase doesn't have anything to do with a pretty face)
  6. arsham Senior Member

    I like this one although I tend to be a walking encylopaedia (by the way you can have them on your mobile phones! :))
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2011
  7. Interprete Senior Member

    French, France
    Tête bien faite = esprit critique
    tête bien pleine = bourrage de crâne
  8. Keith Lyons Senior Member

    American English
    Dear Arsham,
    Thank you for the feedback vote --
    RE: It's better to have knowledge that's well structured than to be a walking encyclopaedia.
    Though I disagree about the mobile phone (& computers!) -- we don't have knowledge there, but information.
    All the best:
    -- Keith Lyons
  9. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    Salut Keith Lyons,

    D'accord avec Interprete. Pour paraphraser : mieux vaut savoir réfléchir par soi-même que d'avoir uniquement appris les connaissances des autres.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 3, 2012
  10. Uncle Bob Senior Member

    British English
    Very loosely, and not an expression I have heard anywhere: Better a thinker than a parrot.
  11. Keith Lyons Senior Member

    American English
    Well, Uncle Bob (&, by the way, KaRiNe_Fr):

    First, most parrots I've met don't have a heck of a lot of information to spout forth.
    Remember the original idea is "tete bien pleine"-- an over-full head, being able to speak about too much, know too much, and thus not
    really communicate well. Every parrot I've met makes their few points real clear -- as Long John Silver's parrot ("Ahoy, matey!") in Stevenson's Treasure Island
    exhibited well.

    Second, can't deny however that there's a kernel of truth in your idea. A "tete bien pleine" is prone to obfuscate by virtue of repeating others' ideas ("les connaissances des autres"); the bane of most academic mish-mash writing, spec. in 2nd half of 20th cent. to the present time.

    Thanks for the feed back!

    Yrs., Keith Lyons.
  12. Uncle Bob Senior Member

    British English
    That was precisely the thing to which I was referring. ("Parrot-wise" learning being an accusation sometimes levelled at those emerging from the "Grandes Écoles" - by the newspapers Le Monde and Le Monde Diplomatique amongst others - and they certainly have full heads).
  13. Keith Lyons Senior Member

    American English
    Dear Uncle Bob:

    Yes, totally agreee; as Orwell said: the whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. And thus: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns...instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

    So here’s to being succint & to the point in turbulent, election-year 2012!

    Guess this wraps up
    "Mieux vaut une tête bien faite qu'une tête bien pleine" ? -- though, I'm sure, the phenomenon shall prosper.

    Best: -- Keith Lyons

    And many thanks to "NemoNobody" for locating the quote in Montaigne :): Balzac).
  14. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    "Being able to think is better than having a head stuffed full of facts" - perhaps.
  15. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    A well-formed rather than a well-filled mind?
  16. Moon Palace

    Moon Palace Senior Member

    This is also a quote of Montaigne, and one translation goes like this: "a good mind is better than a gorged one"
  17. Keith Lyons Senior Member

    American English
    Folks, we get the sense -- but maybe it doesn't translate well?
    I.e. "good mind" is flat beer compared to the French tang of "une tête bien faite". No?
    -- Keith Lyons
  18. Moon Palace

    Moon Palace Senior Member

    For what it's worth, and regardless of the quote, the Robert and Collins dictionary translates une tête bien faite by a good mind. The point is that bien faite does not really mean sharp or clever, otherwise you could say a sharp mind or use other similar adjectives.
  19. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    I agree; a good mind is just bland in English. "He has a good mind" is something you might say of someone who seems intelligent but isn't doing much with it.

    Maybe if we approach it without relying on adjectives: How much is in your head is less important than how you use it.
  20. NemoNobody

    NemoNobody Senior Member

    France métropolitaine
    French - France
    You're welcome, I initially thought it was from Rabelais...:)
  21. mirifica Senior Member

    Les Lilas
    Bonjour à tous,

    better be brainy than have brains burdened with knowlege. ???
    better have an sharp (agile) mind than one burdened... ? ??
  22. franc 91 Senior Member

    English - GB
    Knowing how to use your intelligence is far better than filling your head with some unending quantity of useless facts (suggestion) - (not that a WR Forum could in any possible way resemble such a thing, of course)

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