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There is a saying in Spanish that doesn't translate very well into English:

Cuando las barbas de tu vecino veas pelar, pon las tuyas a remojar.

When you see your neighbour's beard plucking[?], get yours to soak.

I've found a translation here that is wrong1.

The meaning of the Spanish saying is explained here (in Spanish). In English, it could be translated as:

If a misfortune strikes someone under circumstances similar to ours, then we should prepare ourselves for the same misfortune.

An equivalent saying in English is also proposed on the same page:

When thy neighbour's house is on fire, beware of thine own.
When the neighbour's house is on fire, beware of your own. (Mieder1992 p. 427)
When thy neighbour's house doth burn, then look to your own. (Apperson p. 407)
Look to thyself when the neighbour's house is on fire. (Fergusson n. 153.16 p. 236)
When the neighbour's house declines, beware the possibilities of your own. (Mieder1992 p. 427)

I find the above saying a bit too formal and I was wondering whether there is a more modern and not so formal way to express the equivalent meaning.


1 The reason why I consider this translation wrong is because "a mistake" is something we do ourselves; "a misfortune" is due to something out of our control.

  • Roosevelt said if your neighbour's house is on fire you lend him your hose and you don't ask for money - what you want is your hose back when the fire has been put out. But neither that nor OP's examples are exactly "known sayings", so I don't see much point in rewriting anything in "modern English". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 8 '14 at 18:28
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    @FumbleFingers I think they know the sayings aren't well-known in English, so they want to find the usual (modern, not-so-formal) way of expressing the same meaning ("If a misfortune strikes someone under similar circumstances to ours, then we should prepare ourselves for the same misfortune"). – snailplane Aug 8 '14 at 21:34
  • @snailplane: I suspected as much. Offhand, I can't think of a "saying" with that general sense, but obviously that doesn't mean there isn't one. Having said that, I haven't voted on this question yet, but I must admit I'm far from convinced it's even On Topic. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 8 '14 at 21:39
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    An alternative translation of the original Spanish: When you see your neighbor's beard peeling, soak yours. – Pockets Aug 8 '14 at 23:13
  • The translation that is incorrect actually matches what you're looking for. Learn from other's mistakes/misfortunes. – SrJoven Aug 9 '14 at 2:48
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Now there's a wake-up call.

http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/wake-up+call.html

A wake-up call is a warning of a threat or a challenge, especially when it means that people will have to change their behaviour to meet it.

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    This might be applicable in situations described in the question, but it definitely has a much broader meaning than what's been requested. The wake up call need not be an instance of the event happening to someone else. – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 9 '14 at 14:35
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I've found a translation here that is wrong

What does it say?

you should learn from other people's mistakes

is a more modern and not so formal way to express the equivalent meaning.

Why does this match?

changed in light of pelar also meaning "to shave" The verb usage really depends on intent. Your neighbor has shaved his beard, and you should too (soak it, because you're not going to want to shave a dry beard).

In Spanish, this is addressed in a forum which Google translates as:

When you see your neighbor's beard peel, put yours to soak it alludes to a saying that we should learn from the problems of others to be on guard and take measures to prevent those same evils can happen to us and so suffer the same fate

The link in the forum points to a defunct geocities website, referenced here via archive.org. It in turn references the Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española. barba is on pdf page 279/book page 120. It is a long read, in Spanish, which may make more sense to a native speaker than to me. The actual quote is almost midway on pdf page 280/book page 121, on the right hand side.

If the OP has a translation to English of the concept (even in historical terms) from this, it might be helpful to assist.

  • The reason why I consider that translation wrong is because "a mistake" is something we bring onto us; "a misfortune" is due to something out of our control. – Nico Aug 9 '14 at 8:31
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    I find this translation inappropriate because of the shift in temporal perspective; this is more akin to hindsight, whereas the original idiom is a warning of sorts. – Pockets Aug 9 '14 at 12:20
  • so, learn from others misfortunes, but that still fits as more modern. @SamuelLijin, hindsight? I don't follow. If someone is actively making a mistake/encountering a misfortune, it's probably a good time to take action. – SrJoven Aug 9 '14 at 12:26
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    "learn" - to me, at least - implies that the mistakes have not only transpired, but that the repercussions thereof have also transpired, and thus that you know how to avoid both said mistakes and the repercussions thereof. The idiom at hand, however, is more of a cautionary warning - if you see a sign of danger, don't ignore it and get ready ASAP. – Pockets Aug 9 '14 at 12:28

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