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Shirley L. Arora


In his basic study of the proverb, Archer Taylor refers to the role of certain proverbs as patterns in the creation of new sayings and points out the difficulties frequently involved in attempts to determine which of several similar sayings is the model for the rest. Observing that some patterns are obviously more productive than others, he suggests that two general factors influence such productivity: the familiarity of the model saying, on the one hand, and the "applicability" of the formula on the other.[1] In the group of Spanish and Spanish American proverbs assembled here this kind of generative process may be observed on two levels. As a whole, the sayings are characterized by a common introductory formula, El que nace [para]..., and have as a consequence a common sphere of application and meaning. More specifically, however, there are within the larger group several pattern-frames, some fairly flexible, others quite rigid, which have in turn given rise to closely related clusters of sayings. On the basis of these pattern-frames the 125 proverbs of the list have been grouped into four large classes (two of which are further subdivided) and four smaller ones, with a miscellaneous category at the end. This tentative inventory of the el que nace proverbs, while not purporting to solve any specific problems of origin or direct derivation--for which purpose historical and geographical documentation is still inadequate--, reveals certain tendencies within the group as a whole in regard to the popularity of specific patterns and their apparent geographical distribution. As the introductory formula suggests, the el que nace sayings concern themselves with the relation between an individual's condition or destiny at birth and the outcome of his life. In broad terms, sayings in which the element para is absent (approximately one-fourth of the items on the list) emphasize the immutability of inborn characteristics (e.g., El que nace barrigón, anque lo fajen, No. 34a), while the addition of para introduces the concept of destiny or predetermined fate (El que nace para maceta, no sale del corredor, No. 91b). Yet the distinction is not always clear cut, and some individual sayings have been recorded both with and without para (El que nace [para] panzón, aunque lo fajen, No. 46a, a variation of the expression with barrigón cited above). In effect, whether an individual is born possessing certain traits or born fated to exhibit them, the end result is the same. The emphasis on the impossibility of changing what has been decreed at birth or by fate remains the common denominator of the group as a whole.[2]

Twenty-three of the sayings in the annotated list have been recorded in the field in the course of a current research project among Spanish-speaking residents of the Los Angeles area.[3] Published sources have supplied the remaining examples, as well as annotations for most of the items collected in the field. The field record is especially pertinent as an indication of the vitality of the sayings in current usage. Two of them--El que nace pra tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas (No. 65a) and the expression with barrigón (which has several variants)--are among the most frequently recorded proverbs in the field project to date. They would seem therefore to fulfill amply the first of Taylor's general requisites for a productive pattern-frame, and they do in fact represent two of the most numerous pattern groups in the annotated list, although they are not necessarily the parent sayings of those groups. The expression with tamal has been largely, though not exclusively, limited to informants of Mexican origin or descent; versions of the expressions with barrigón have been contributed by persons from eleven different Spanish-speaking regions, including Spain itself.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 7:1998 & Issue 8:1998, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.


Group IV.

El que nace para X no llega a Y.
Y is typically some object related to X but in some way superior to it (in value, function, size, material, etc.). All but one of these sayings contain para; in the exception (No. 84), insertion of para would bring the syllable count of the second portion beyond eight. No llega alternates with no ha de ser in the second half of the pattern, sometimes in the same saying (e.g., No. 82). Among the several Peninsular Spanish proverbs in this group, the most frequently recorded in Spain itself uses coins to indicate two levels of value (No. 80). There are several Spanish-American equivalents in which the coins vary from region to region.

69. El que nace pa BURRO no ha'i ser caballo. Argentina: Villafuerte I 301. Portuguese: Chaves Q 1177 Quem nasceu para burro,nunca chega a cavalo. See also No. 24.
70. El que nació pa CORNETA, nunca llegará a ser trompeta. Chile: Laval Paremiología 36. See also No. 90.
71. el que nace para CHAVO nunca llega a chavo y medio. Puerto Rico: Coll 105. Chavo is a local form of ochavo. See No. 80.
72. El que nace pa CHIFLE, no ha'i ser botella. Argentina: Villafuerte I 301. Chifle here refers to a horn vessel used for carrying water.
73. El que nace para CHIFLE no hai ser corneta. Argentina: Moya 430. In this expression chifle is understood as "whistle," and a totally different word is therefore inserted into the Y slot.
74. El que nace para CHIFLE, no llega a rial. Colombia: Jaramillo 390; García 230 (no sube a real). Chimbo is a coin of slight value.
75. El que nació para FLAUTA no llega a clarinete. Costa Rica: Salesiano 27.
76. El que nace para GUARDACANTON, nunca llega a requesón. Spain: Sbarbi 447; RM 21.000 414 (quien nace). In this particular saying the X/Y relationship is merely one of contrast of texture rather than of inferiority and superiority. Rhyme presumably plays a part in the choice of objects contrasted.
77. El que nace para MATE, nunca ha de ser jarro. Argentina: Moya 430.
78. El que nace para MEDIO nunca llega a entero. Field: Puerto Rico. The informant used this expression in context to refer to a young intern trying (presumably unsuccessfully) to specialize in a particular branch of medicine. He recalled having heard it frequently from his grandmother, a native of the Canary Islands.
79a. El que nace para MEDIO, nunca llega a ser un real. Field: Cuba. Chile: Laval Paremiología 36 (al que Dios lo hizo pa medio). Argentina: Moya 430; 428 (ha nacido...puede ser). Uruguay: Escobar 159 (llegará a real). See also No. 119a.
79b. El que nace para MEDIO/ no puede llegar a eal/ porque cuando llega a real/ siempre se le pierde el medio. Cuba: Feijóo 138. For another, similar saying in copla form, see No. 119b.
80. el que nace para OCHAVO, no puede llegar a cuarto. Spain: DRAE ochavo; Sbarbi 170 (nunca llega) . RM 21.000 414 (quien nace...no llega). Compare, in Portuguese,Chaves Q 1179 Quem nasceu para dez-réis nao chega a vintém (recorded also for Brazil, Amaral 263).
81. el que ha nacido pa OCHENA, nunca llegará a ser real. Spain: Iribarren 363. Ochena is a coin worth 8 maravedís.
82a. Quien nació para POBRE no ha de ser rico. Spain: RM 21.000 414. New Mexico: Espinosa 272 (el que nace...nunca será). Panama: Aguilera 492 (el que nació...nunca llega a ser). Portuguese: Chaves Quem nasceu para pobre nao chega a rigo.
82b. Arre, borrico! Quien nació para POBRE no ha de ser rico. Peru: Palma 353. Argentina: Moya 451 (Erre burrico). Palma makes this saying both title and subject of one of his tradiciones, which supposedly tells the "origin" of the saying: a poor, illiterate Indian was cheated of mining property by a "friend" who could read and write; when told that he had no legal recourse he mounted his donkey and rode off, voicing his resignation to his fate with words that subsequently became proverbial. The date assigned to the incident is 1630. See next entry for a rhymed version from Peninsular Spain.
82c. Pico que pico, el que nació para POBRE nunca llega a rico. Spain: RM 21.000 366; Sbarbi 807 (llegará).
83. El que nace pa REAL no llega a real y medio. Cuba: Feijóo 14. Argentina: Moya 430 (no ha de ser).
84. El que nace TEPALCATE ni a comal tiznado llega. Mexico: Rubio I 190.
85. El que ha nacido pa TRAPO, nunca llegará a ser toalla. Spain: Iribarren 558. ®IP2,0

Group V.

El que nace para X, hasta Y no para.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 7:1998 & Issue 8:1998, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

Group VIII.

The three sayings of this group are not so much concerned with destiny as with the impossibility of concealing one's origin (symbolized here by place of birth), even though, presumably, one may better one's circumstances or social position. (A similar concept is expressed in certain sayings in other pattern groups; see, for example, Nos. 35 and 50). An early proverb recorded by Hernán Núñez, Quien nace en el muladar, allí se querría morar (III 327), employs similar imagery, but the implication of preference on the part of the individual places it outside the criteria for inclusion in our list; the same is true of another Peninsular saying, Quien nace en pajar, en pajar quiere acabar (RM 21.000 414).

102. El que nace en CUADRAS, siempre huele. Spain: Sbarbi 282.
103. El que ha nacido en PETATE, siempre anda erutando a tule. Mexico: Rubio I 188.
104. El que ha nacido en ZALEA siempre anda oliendo a borrego. Mexico: Rubio I 189. Rubio notes that the saying may be used in a general sense or may imply specifically the condition of cornudo.


In this category have been placed all sayings which could not be arranged in pattern groups of three or more. A few bear some resemblance to sayings in one of the pattern groups, yet deviate from the pattern in some respect that sets them apart.

105. A quien nace AFORTUNADO, le ponen huevos los gallos; y a quien nace para ruina, ni las gallinas. Spain: RM 6.666 26. For a number of sayings of similar nature, beginning however with a different formula (A quien Dios quiere bien...), see RM 10.700 34. See also No. 115.
106a. El que nació para AHOGARSE, pierde el resuello en un charco de agua. Spain: Gella I 78. Peru: Palma 83 (charco de ranas).
106b. Quien está de Dios que se AHOGUE, se ahogará en el tiesto de las gallinas. Spain: RM 12.6000 274.
107. Quien BURRO nace, aunque coma en plata, como burro pace. Spain: RM 6.666 137.
108. El que nace para CABEZA no puede ser cola. Cuba: Cabrera [7]. This saying is similar to those of Group IV, but the X/Y relationship appears to be reversed.
109. El que no nació para CASADO no sabe engañar mujer. Cuba: Cabrera [43].
110. La que ha de ser COJA, en la cama se descadera. Spain: RM 10.700 167. See also No. 112. The only other saying in the feminine form is No. 96.
111. A quien nació DESDICHADO, ¨qué le aprovecha ser esforzado? Spain: RM 12.600 30.
112. Quien nace DESGRACIADO, en la cama se descostilla. Spain: RM 21.000 414. See also No. 110.
113. El que nace DESGRACIADO, en medio de la dicha, padece. Argentina: Moya 430.
114. El que nace sin ESTRELLA, en su vida deja huella. Costa Rica: Salesiano 15.
115. A quien nace con HADO bueno, los gallos le ponen huevos. Spain: RM 6.666 26. For an elaborated version, see No. 105.
116. El que nace INFIEL, nunca será cristiano. Argentina: Moya 430.
117. Quien nació MALO, será bueno cuando la rana críe pelo. Spain: RM 10.700 258.
118. El que nace para MEDIO, será medio sin remedio. Chile: Laval Paremiología 39.
119a. El que nace para MEDIO, cuando tiene un real y medio, pierde un real. Cuba: Martínez-Moles 355.
119b. El que nace para MEDIO/ y su destino es fatal,/ cuando llega a real y medio/ siempre se le pierde el real. Field: Cuba (2).
120. Quien MULO nace, caballo no se hace. Spain: RM 6.666 142. See also Nos. 24 and 69.
121. Al que nació para POBRE, oro que gane se le vuelve cobre. Spain: RM 10.700 25. Portuguese; Chaves A 300 A quem nasceu para ser pobre, o oiro se torna em cobre.
122. El que nace para ser RICO, hasta por la gatera le entra. Field: Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico and Central America: Malaret 372 (al que ha de ser rico, por la gatera le viene). The field informant identified the saying as "very old" and described in detail the making of a gatera, a small opening to allow a cat to go in and ot of the house at will. Two younger Puerto Rican informants knew neither the saying nor the word gatera. A proverb meaning frequently recorded from Mexican informants is Al que Dios le quiere dar, por la tronera le ha de entrar.
123. Quien nació RUIN, lo es hasta el fin. Spain: RM 6.666 143. Portuguese: Chaves Q 1371 Quem ruim è sempre o è .
124. El que nace para TONTO, desde lo alto le viene. Field: Mexico. This saying is similar to those of Group III but lacks the related noun in the second portion.
125a. El que nació para TRISTE, ni bolo será alegre. Guatemala: Sandoval I 452.
125b. El que nació para TRISTE, tras de una música llora. Nicaragua: Malaret 375.


Acuña, Luis Alberto. Refranero colombiano. Bogotá, 1947.

Aguilera Patiño, Luisita. Refranero panameño. Contribución a la paremiología hispanoamericana. Santiago de Chile, 1955.

Andrade, Manuel José. Folklore de la República Dominicana. Vol. II. New York, 1930. References are by number.

Amaral, Amadeu. Tradicÿotes populares. Vol. I of Obras completas. São Paulo, [1948].

Bashleigh, C. The Criollo Way. A Brief guide to the Slang and Idioms of Venezuela. Caracas, [1967].

Boatright, Mody. Texas Folk and Folklore. Texas Folklore Society Publications, No. 26. Dallas, 1954.

Brambila Pelayo, Alberto M. Ekos nasionales. Guadalajara, 1931.

Cabrera, Lydia. Refranes de negros viejos. Havana, 1955. Unpaged. Page numbers have been supplied, with the first page of proverbs as page 3.

Capdevila, Ramón Rafael. Mil setecientos refranes, dichos y modismos (región central bonaerense). Ciudad Eva Perón, 1955.

Casasola, José. Dichos y refranes mexicanos. Mexico, D.F., n.d.

Cerda, Gilberto, Berta Cabaza and Julieta Farías. El vocabulario español de Texas. University of Texas Hispanic Studies, No. 5. Austin, 1953.

Chaves, Pedro. Rifoneiro portugués. 2d ed. Porto, 1945. References are by letter and number.

Coll y Toste, Cayetano. "Paremiario antillano." Archivos del Folklore Cubano, II (1926), 103-107, 223-227, 326-328; IV (1929), 69-71.

Correas, Gonzalo. Vocabulario de refranes y frases proverbiales y otras fórmulas comunes de la lengua castellana. 2d ed. Madrid, 1924.

DRAE--Real Academia Española. Diccionario de la lengua española. 18th ed. Madrid, 1956.

Erminy Armisendi,Santos. Refranes que se oyen y dicen en Venezuela. Madrid and Caracas, n.d.

Escobar, Wáshington. Refranero de Tacuarembó. Montevideo, 1962. References are by number.

Espinosa A.M. "New Mexican Spanish Folklore, Parts IV and V." Journal of American Folklore, XXVI (1913), 97-122. References are by number.

Feijóo, Samuel. Refranes, adivinanzas, dicharachos, trabalenguas, cuartetas y décimas antiguas de los campesinos cubanos. Havana, 1961.

García, Julio César. "Contribución al refranero colombiano." Revista de Folklore (Bogotá), I (1948), 231-247.

García Corzo, Samuel E. Setecientos cincuenta refranes, proverbios, máximas, sentencias, adagios y dichos recopilados en la "capital arqueológica" de Sud América. Cuzco, 1955. References are by number.

Gella Iturriaga, José. Refranero del mar. 2 vols. Madrid, 1944.

Gomes, Antonio Osmar. "Tradições populares colhidas no Baixo São Francisco." Primeiro Congresso Brasileiro de Folclore, Anais, II, 151-299. Rio de Janeiro, [1953].

Gómez de Estavillo, G. Mexican Proverbs. Mexico, D.F., 1948.

Gómez Maganda, Alejandro. Como dice el dicho! Refranes y dichos mexicanos. 2 vols. Mexico, D.F., 1963.

Hernández, José. Martín Fierro. Ed. By Eleuterio Tiscornia. 8th ed. Buenos Aires, 1953.

Iriarte, Juan de. Obras sueltas. Vol. II. Madrid, 1774.

Iribarren, José María. Vocabulario navarro, seguido de una colección de refranes, adagios, dichos y frases proverbiales. Pamplona, 1952.

Jaramillo Londoño, Agustín. El testamento del paisa. 3d ed. Medellín, 1962.

Lamenza, Mário. Proverbios. Rio de Janeiro, 1941.

Laval, Romón. Contribución al folklore de Carahue (Chile). Madrid, 1916. Cited as Laval Carahue. ---. Paremiología chilena. 2d ed. Santiago de Chile, 1928. Cited as Laval Paremiología.

Lea, Aurora Lucero-White. Literary Folklore of the Hispanic Southwest. San Antonio, 1953.

Levy, Denah. "El sefardí de Nueva York; observaciones sobre el judeo-español de Esmirna." M.A. thesis, Columbia Univ., 194.

Lewis, Oscar. Los hijos de Sánchez. Autobiografía de una familia mexicana. 6th ed. Mexico, D.F., 1966.

Lida, Denah. "Refranes judeo-españoles de Esmirna." Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, XII (1958), 1-35. References are by number.

Malaret, Augusto. "Paremiología americana." Universidad Católica Bolivariana, Publicación Bimestral, IX (1943), 347-367.

Martínez-Moles, Manuel. Contribución al folklore. Vol. VII. Vocabulario espirituano. Refranes, frases proverbiales, dichos y dicharachos usados en Sancti-Spiritus. Havana, 1928,

Motta, Leonardo. No tempo de Lampeao. Rio de Janeiro, 1930.

Moya, Ismael. Refranero. Refranes, porverbios, adagios, frases proverbiales, modismos refranescos, giros y otras formas paremiológicas tradicionales en la República Argentina. Instituto de Literatura Argentina, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Estudios sobre materiales de la colección de folklore, No. 2. Buenos Aires, 1944.

Nuñez, Hernán. Refranes o proverbios en castellano, por el orden alfabético, que juntó y glosó el comendador Hernán Núñez. 4 vols. Madrid 1804.

O'Kane, Eleanor S. Refranes y frases proverbiales españolas de la Edad Media. Boletín de la Real Academia Española, Anejo II. Madrid 1959.

Oxford: see Smith.

Palma, Ricardo. Tradiciones peruanas completas. Ed. by Edith Palma. 4th ed. Madrid, 1961.

Pereda Valdés, Ildefonso. Cancionero popular uruguayo. Montevideo, 1947. References are by number.

Pinedo, Manuel D. and Rebecca Pérez Nava. "Recolección folklórica en Valparaíso, Zacatecas." Anuario de la Sociedad Folklórica Mexicana, VI (1950), 503-538.

Ramírez Sendoya, Pedro José. Refranero del gran Tolima. Bogotá, 1952.

"Refranero nicaragüense." Cuaderno del Taller San Lucas, No. 4. Granada [Nicaragua], 1944. Cited as San Lucas.

RM--Rodríguez Marín, Francisco. Doce mil seiscientos refranes más. Madrid, 1930. Cited as RM 12.600. ---. Los 6.666 refranes de mi última rebusca. Madrid, 1934. Cited as RM 6.666. ---. Más de 21.000 refranes castellanos no contenidos en la copiosa colección del maestro Gonzalo Correas. Madrid, 1926. Cited as RM 21.000. ---. Todavía 10.700 refranes más. Madrid, 1941. Cited as RM 10.700.

Rubio, Darío. Refranes, porverbios y dichos y dicharachos mexicanos. 2 vols. 2d ed. Mexico, D.F., 1940.

Salesiano, Un. Vocabulario de palabras, modismos y refranes ticos. Cartago [Costa Rica], 1938.

Sandoval, Lisandro. Semántica guatemalense o diccionario de guatemaltequismos. 2 vols. Guatemala City, 1941-2.

San Lucas: see "Refranero nicaragüense."

Santamaría, Francisco J. Diccionario de mejicanismos. Mexico, D.F., 1959.

Saporta y Beja, Enrique. Refranero sefardí. Compendio de refranes, dichos y locuciones típicas de los sefardíes de Salónica y otros sitios de Oriente. Madrid and Barcelona, 1957.

Sbarbi, José María. Gran diccionario de refranes de la lengua española. Argentinian ed. Buenos Aires, 1943.

Segovia, Lisandro. Diccionario de argentinismos, neologismos y barbarismos. Buenos Aires, 1911.

Smith, William George, and Janet Heseltine. The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs. 2d ed., revised by Paul Harvey. Oxford, 1952. Cited as Oxford.

Suárez, Constantino. Vocabulario cubano. Suplemento a la 14a edición del Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua. Havana, 1921.

[Torres, Enrique M.] ("Don Pampa Viejo") El fogón de las tradiciones. 2 vols. 5th ed. Buenos Aires, 1945.

Velasco Valdés, Miguel. Refranero popular mexicano. Mexico, D.F., 1967.

Villafuerte, Carlos. Voces y costumbres de Catamarca. 2 vols. Buenos Aires, 1961.

Yáñez, Agustín. Tierras flacas. Mexico, D.F., 1962.


  1. The Proverb and an Index to The Proverb (Hatboro, Pa., 1962), pp. 16-22.

  2. A small number of sayings with a similar introductory formula have been omitted under this criterion, e.g. El que antes nace, antes pace (Núñez II 17); Quien nació con ventura, siente más la desventura (RM 21.000 414); Quien nace con pluma, antes de tiempo vuela (ibid.). Where interpretation was doubtful, the saying in question has been included. For an explanation of the system of annotation used here and elsewhere, see the concluding paragrph of the introductory remarks.

  3. For some sayings more than one version was recorded, bringing the total number of field entries to thirty-one, as follows: Nos. 4, 15, 29, 34a, 34c, 34e, 37a, 37b, 45b, 45c, 46a, 46b, 46c, 50, 53, 56a, 57b, 65a 65b 66, 78, 79a, 86c, 87a, 91a, 91b, 97, 98, 119b, 122 and 124. Seven separate sayings and six variants have no other documentation. The study project has included interviews with informants from a wide range of national backgrounds, though chiefly Mexican. Some have resided in the Los Angeles area for many years, while others are relatively recent arrivals. Data on individual informants, except for country of origin, have been omitted for purposes of the present study.

  4. In Darío Rubio's Mexican collection the proverb is given a strictly favorable interpretation (I, 41) which coincides with its adaptation into the form of a copla (I, 196). A Panamanian version with bollo is also applied to good luck by another collector (Aguilera 44). Only three sayings on the annotated list refer specifically to good fortune, and two of these are variationa of one another (see Nos. 105, 115 and 122). There are, of course, proverbs with other introductory formulas that relate to good luck; see, for example, the reference under No. 105.

  5. Oscar Lewis, Los hijos de Sánchez (6th ed.; Mexico, D.F., 1966), pp. 171 and 436-437.

  6. For full titles and publication data, see the bibliography. Sbarbi's dictionary of proverbs, published posthumously, includes material collected throughout a lifetime of interest in proverbial lore, some of which appeared in his earlier collections; unfortunately, although much of the material was apparently derived from previously published sources, those sources are seldom specified. Rodríguez Marín notes in the subtitle of his first collection (published 1926) that he began his work with proverbs in 1871.

  7. The informant specifically identified the saying as one used "back home"; but in any case of long-term residence outside the native region, identification of material by the informant's country of origin is naturally not infallible. In the Los Angeles area, with its particularly strong Mexican tradition, the possibility of inter-group contact and exchange must alwas be born in mind. Informants have, on numberous occasions, contributed sayings which they themselves identified as belonging to a country other than their own. In the case of El que nace barrigón... and its variants, the indirect evidence of distribution must be considered of greater significance than the field record.

  8. The other entries with Portuguese equivalents are 10, 23, 27, 69, 82a, 121 and 123. Similar sayings in Portuguese include: Quem nasceu para burro de horta, mal pode chegar a ginete (Chaves Q 1176); Quem nasceu para porco, nunca chega a porqueiro (Chaves Q 1181); Quem nasceu para ser tatu morre cavando (Lamenza 242); Quem nasceu para cangalha, não da pra sela (Gomes 202).

  9. Recorded, with variations, from informants from Cuba, Mexico, Honduras and Peru. Published documentation includes Spain (RM 12.600 33), Colombia (Jaramillo 366), Uruguay (Pereda 579), and Brazil (Amaral 258). The verb crece sometimes replaces nace. The Judeo-Spanish version and a similar saying recorded by Correas, Palo tuerto nunca bien derecho (p. 379) suggest that the earliest versions of this proverb may have lacked the subordinate clause construction and may in turn have been influenced by contemporaneous sayings with Quen nace.... A closer examination of these interrelationships would require a study apart.

Shirley L. Arora
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
University of California
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1532

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