So far my favorite part of learning Armenian has been its rich and varied sayings and figures of speech. Beyond entertaining me and teaching me new vocab, these definitely help with integration, as they get good responses from listeners, usually along the chuckling “where exactly did you learn that?” line. About half of these I learned from one of our NGO’s more active teenage volunteers, with whom I swap English sayings for Armenian whenever we meet (examples include, “a watched pot never boils”, “where there’s a will there’s a way”, “YOLO”, etc.), the other half from my counterpart Karen.
I present a number of these sayings below, along with their interpretations and etymology where available. I sincerely hope that this is a representative sample that I’ve learned and that Armenian actually has several hundred sayings involving donkeys.
I’ll start with my favorite so far:
-Դառել ես նոր տարվա լիմոնատ – Darrel es nor tarva limonat – “You have become the New Year’s lemonade”. You say this to someone you haven’t seen in a while, because in the past lemonade was so expensive that you only bought it for the giant celebrations for New Year’s, so this person has become a special treat.
-խոսքդ շաքարով կտրեմ – Khoskd shakarov ktrem – “Let me cut your speech with sugar”. What you say before interrupting someone with a brief interjection. I’ve heard you can also use it when you’re hanging out with someone who is being quiet and you want them to talk.
-Ագռավներն ամեն տեղ սև են – Agrravnern amen tegh sev en – “Crows are black everywhere”. People who are bad in one place will always be bad. I especially like this one because I could imagine any Wildling character from A Song of Ice and Fire saying it.
-Աղջիկը տան ծաղիկն է, իսկ ամեն ծաղիկ իր հոտն ունի – Aghjeek tan tsareek e, isk amen tsareek ir hotn unee – “The girl is the flower of the house, and every flower has its own scent”. Everyone is unique.
Now all the ones about donkeys:
-Էշի զատկին – Eshi zatkeen – “On the donkey’s Easter”. No idea the etymology, but it’s equivalent to “when pigs fly” in English – i.e., absolutely never. This one gets the biggest laughs of any of the sayings I know.
-Էշի մոր թայ – Eshi mor tay – “The donkey’s mother’s age”. Response when someone asks you your age and you don’t want to say. You can also say this to someone who is not behaving appropriately for their age.
-էշը ցեխից հանել – Eshi tsekheets hanel – “To take the donkey out of the mud”. You did something the hard way, but you did it, and that’s what matters.
-Էշ, մի սատկի, գարուն կուգա – Esh, mi satkee, garoon kooka – “Don’t die, donkey, spring will come”. I’m not 100% sure about this one, but in spite of it sounding reassuring I think you use it in response to someone wishing/hoping for something that you believe will never happen.
-Էշի ականջում քնած – Eshi akanjoom knats – “Asleep in the donkey’s ear”. Used to describe someone who is stupid or ignorant.