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Metaphors were a common quotation, a figure of speech, usually offering a piece of wisdom in reference to a present situation. Idioms had phrasing that had figurative meaning often unrelated to the actual phrasing, while proverbs were commonly sourced from folklore, historical allusion, or tribal memories.

Adages

"Look before you leap" (VOY: "Bliss")

This was claimed to be an antiquated adage by Seven of Nine.

"Captain goes down with the ship" (VOY: "Year of Hell, Part II")

Kathryn Janeway also considered this one of three things to remember about being a starship captain on one occasion. (VOY: "Dark Frontier")

Picard also once referenced an old horse trainer's adage about putting too much weight on a young back. (TNG: "Pen Pals")

Aphorisms

"A watched pot never boils." (TNG: "Timescape")

"The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing" (TNG: "Conspiracy")

"one cannot cheat fate" (TNG: "Time's Arrow")

The use of the word "one" might not be standard, but rather attributable to Data's speech idiosyncrasies.

Blessings

Bajoran

"Blessed be the Prophets" (DS9: "Strange Bedfellows")

Children of the Son

"May the blessings of the son be upon you" (TOS: "Bread and Circuses")

"Blessed be the son" (TOS: "Bread and Circuses")

Drayan

"May this day find you at peace and leave you with hope" (VOY: " Innocence")

Human

"Peace in your heart, fortune in your steps" (VOY: " Innocence")

This phrase was in use among the Rubber Tree People, and attributed to the spirits of their people.

"May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet" (TOS: "The Man Trap")

Yash-El

"Dream not of today" (TNG: "The Chase")

Described as a "night blessing".

Vulcan

"Live long and prosper"

"Peace and long life"

"May your journey be free of incident" (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Other

While impersonating Tuvok, a Vulcan, Mobar adopted the blessing "May the deities bless you" as part of his persona. (VOY: "Live Fast and Prosper")

Idioms

Between a rock and a hard place

Being "between a rock and a hard place" is an Earth idiom, meaning that someone is in a situation where he or she can choose between two alternatives, and neither of them are acceptable.

In 1986, Bob Briggs told Gillian Taylor, they're "between a rock and a hard place" regarding the fate of George and Gracie. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Burning the midnight oil

"Burning the midnight oil" was an Earth idiom meaning staying up late at night working or studying.

In 2143, A.G. Robinson, who got to be the first Human to test the NX-Alpha test vehicle, told Jonathan Archer that he didn't get this assignment because he tried too hard, "burning the midnight oil" in the simulator eighteen to twenty hours a day. (ENT: "First Flight")

In 2374, Chakotay asked Captain Kathryn Janeway if she had been "Burning the midnight oil", after she, amongst others, had reported late for duty. (VOY: "Waking Moments")

In 2376, Janeway, who was working very late one night in the mess hall, told Neelix that she was "just burning the midnight oil", to which Neelix replied that it was way past midnight. (VOY: "Fair Haven")

In an alternate timeline in 2364, Captain Jean-Luc Picard ordered Miles O'Brien to bypass the secondary plasma inducer, which required O'Brien to realign the entire power grid, stating "we're all going to be burning the midnight oil on this one." Data, who overheard O'Brien, told him that that would be inadvisable because any "attempt to ignite a petroleum product on this ship at 0:00 hours [would] activate the fire suppression system." (TNG: "All Good Things...")

C'est la vie

"C'est la vie" (French: "that's life") is a Human idiom, meaning bad things happen, it's the way of life.

In 2285, when Admiral James Kirk self-destructed the USS Enterprise, killing most of Kruge's Klingon crew on board, he told the Commander on the surface of the Genesis planet: "Sorry about your crew, but as we say on Earth, ...'c'est la vie.'" (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)

Chicken and the egg

The "chicken and the egg" was a paradox, usually posed as the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

In an alternate anti-time future created by Q, retired captain Jean-Luc Picard, used the question of the chicken the egg as a metaphor to explain the paradox of the anti-time anomaly to Geordi La Forge, Beverly Picard, Data, and William Riker aboard the USS Enterprise-D. (TNG: "All Good Things...")

In 2372, B'Elanna Torres described establishing communication with a duplicate of the USS Voyager by getting them to recalibrate their comm frequency carrier wave before they'd first made contact as "the chicken and the egg." (VOY: "Deadlock")

In the 31st century, Jonathan Archer described Daniels' urgent need to restore the original timeline by returning the captain to the 22nd century whilst lacking the technology to do so as "a chicken or the egg problem." (ENT: "Shockwave, Part II")

Archer again said "Chicken or the egg" after Daniels had sent Enterprise NX-01 back in time to 1944 to stop Vosk from starting the Temporal Cold War, and it became apparent that the timeline had changed prior to the 1940s, with Lenin's death in 1916. (ENT: "Storm Front, Part II")

For all the tea in China

"For all the tea in China" means something is so important to a person, he or she wouldn't exchange it for even the most precious things in the world.

In 1986, Gillian Taylor told time traveler Admiral James Kirk, when he explained to her that they want to bring George and Gracie to the 23rd century, and asked her if she's curious about the details, she said, "I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China." (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

I couldn't fill your shoes

"I couldn't fill your shoes" was a Human idiom, describing one being in a bad situation, which the other person couldn't bear.

In 2286, Leonard McCoy told Spock, when he suffered from memory loss after being resurrected, "What I mean is I may have carried your soul, but I sure couldn't fill your shoes," for what Spock replied, "My shoes?" (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

If we play our cards right

"If we play our cards right" was a Human idiom, meaning "if things go well".

In 1986, Admiral James T. Kirk used this idiom when talking to Spock, leading Spock to ask "How will playing cards help?" (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Needle in a haystack

"Needle in a haystack" was a Human idiom which described the long-lasting search for something in a large variety of possibilities.

In 2267, when searching for the Galileo, James T. Kirk remarked that "Finding a needle in a haystack would be child's play." (TOS: " The Galileo Seven")

In 2364, William T. Riker described searching Starfleet records for an instance of someone showering in their clothes as "like looking for a needle in a haystack." (TNG: "The Naked Now")

In 2369 while searching for the crash-landed runabout USS Yangtzee Kiang in the Gamma Quadrant, Miles O'Brien compared the search with searching a needle in a haystack. O'Brien and Jadzia Dax had to search several planets, two dozen moons, and an asteroid belt. (DS9: "Battle Lines")

In 2370, a Paradan replicant of O'Brien commented "Needle in a haystack wouldn't do this job justice" when searching for a fault in Deep Space 9's upper pylons. (DS9: "Whispers")

In 2373, Jadzia Dax said to Benjamin Sisko "Do the words needle in a haystack mean anything to you?", after the USS Defiant had spent two days unsuccessfully searching the Badlands for cloaked missiles appropriated by the Maquis for a strike against Cardassia. (DS9: "Blaze of Glory")

Penny for your thoughts

"Penny for your thoughts" is a Human idiom, meaning that someone is curious about what the other person is thinking.

In 2368, Doctor Beverly Crusher used the expression when she wanted to get Jean-Luc Picard to talk to her during a conversation. When Picard asked her if she has one, she told him, that the replicator probably has it on file. (TNG: "The Perfect Mate")

In 2369, when Q brought back Picard to the incident at Starbase Earhart in 2327, he told him (acting as a bartender): "Penny for your thoughts? You never told me you were such a lady's man," also jokingly referring to Picard's unsuccessful date with Penny Muroc. (TNG: "Tapestry")

In 2370, Crusher used the expression again, dining with Picard, after they shared thoughts for a time via the psi-wave device on Kesprytt III. (TNG: "Attached")

Stone knives and bearskins

"Stone knives and bearskins" was a colorful term employed by Spock to describe the 1930s technology he was forced to use to construct a tricorder interface. Vital information was locked within Spock's tricorder: How had Leonard McCoy changed history? Spock was eventually able to construct an appropriate circuit, but retrieved two separate recordings: one in which Edith Keeler lived, and one in which she died. At that point, the improvised interface erupted in sparks and flame, ruining his chance to learn which of the recordings represented McCoy's alteration, and which the correct timeline. (TOS: "The City on the Edge of Forever")

Kathryn Janeway also used this expression when typing on a late 20th century computer keyboard trying to find out information about Henry Starling. (VOY: "Future's End")

Wash my hands of it

"Wash my hands of it" is an expression used to avert a wrong decision, claiming that the person can not be held responsible for it. It comes from the Bible, and was said by Pilate after he sentenced Jesus Christ to crucifixion, for the push of the crowd, however he saw he was apparently innocent.

In 2266, Doctor Simon Van Gelder accused Captain James T. Kirk of escaping responsibility by taking him back to the Tantalus colony, and told him, "You smart, button-pushing brass hat. Wash your hands of it. Is that your system? You're both quite sure of yourselves, aren't you?" (TOS: "Dagger of the Mind")

Wild goose chase

"Wild goose chase" is an expression used to mean futile pursuit or search after something.

In 2153, Jonathan Archer told T'Pol "Maybe we're just on a wild goose chase" after their initial attempts to locate a dark matter nebula failed. (ENT: "First Flight")

In 2268, Leonard McCoy accused Spock of "run[ning] off on some wild goose chase halfway across the galaxy," when Kirk, Uhura and Chekov disappeared from Gamma II. Spock replied, "Doctor, I am chasing the captain, Lieutenant Uhura, and Ensign Chekov, not some wild aquatic fowl." (TOS: "The Gamesters of Triskelion")

Later that year, Spock described M-5's diversionary tactics as "pursuing a wild goose." (TOS: "The Ultimate Computer")

After Katherine Pulaski was abducted by James Moriarty in 2365, Geordi La Forge believed she planned "to lead [Data] on a wild goose chase and then recount the story to everyone between here and Alpha Centauri." (TNG: "Elementary, Dear Data")

In 2367, Data told Doctor Beverly Crusher, that he "could be chasing an untamed ornithoid without a cause," describing this idiom, when examining the clues of Ambassador T'Pel's presumed death. Crusher eventually recognized the idiom, and corrected him with its common form. (TNG: "Data's Day")

In 2369, Jean-Luc Picard told Deanna Troi that his continuation of Professor Richard Galen's research was not a case of his taking the USS Enterprise-D and its crew on a wild goose chase. (TNG: "The Chase")

In 2371, Kira Nerys told Tom Riker that if she had hijacked the USS Defiant as he had, she "wouldn't have gone flying off into the middle of Cardassia on some wild goose chase." (DS9: "Defiant"]

In 2372, Kathryn Janeway was concerned that investigating "Planet Hell" might prove to be a wild goose chase. (VOY: "Parturition")


Metaphors

"Pulling the plug" (ENT: "Broken Bow")

"The eye of the storm" (VOY: "One Small Step")

"Double dumb ass on you" (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

This colorful had fallen into disuse between 1986 and 2286, as part of a general trend towards less colorful metaphors.

"Catching someone with their pants down" (TNG: "The Defector")

"If you're going to ride in the Kentucky derby, you don't leave your prized stallion in the stable" (Star Trek)

Said to be used where Leonard McCoy was from.

"Targ manure" (VOY: "In the Flesh")

Seemingly used analogous to the current day "bull shit".

Proverbs

Atrean

"A child born from parents who love each other will have nothing but goodness in his heart." (TNG: "Inheritance")

Bajoran

"He who studies evil is studied by evil." (DS9: "The Changing Face of Evil")

"If you're not fighting them, you're helping them." - In the Bajoran Resistance (DS9: "Rocks and Shoals")

"The land and the people are one" (DS9: "The Storyteller")

Cardassian

"Confession is good for the soul." (DS9: "Tribunal")

"Enemies make dangerous friends." (DS9: "The Search, Part II")

Denobulan

"When in Fellebia, do as the Fellebians do." (ENT: "Unexpected")

This would seem to be inspired by the phrase "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Ferengi

The Rules of Acquisition performed a function similar to proverbs in Ferengi culture.

The following were quoted as Ferengi sayings, but were not stated to be included in the Rules of Acquisition:

"Never ask when you can take." (DS9: "Babel")

"A good lie is easier to believe than the truth." (VOY: "Shattered")

"Good things come in small packages" (DS9: "Move Along Home")

"Discretion [is] the better part of valor" (DS9: "The House of Quark")

This was claimed to be an old Ferengi saying by Quark.

Founders

"To become a thing is to know a thing. To assume its form is to begin to understand its existence." (DS9: "The Search, Part II", "Behind the Lines")

"The drop becomes the ocean... The ocean becomes the drop..." (DS9: "Behind the Lines")

Human

"A needle in a haystack." (TNG: "The Naked Now"; DS9: "Blaze of Glory")

"When in Rome... do as the Romans do." (ENT: "Babel One"; TOS: "The Savage Curtain"; TNG: "Justice"; DS9: "Let He Who Is Without Sin...")

"Fortune favors the bold." (DS9: "Favor the Bold", "Sacrifice of Angels")

"As healthy as a horse" (TOS: "Tomorrow is Yesterday")

"Easy as pie." (VOY: "Future's End")

"Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely." (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "Patterns of Force"

Sometimes shortened to "Power corrupts". (TNG: "Hide and Q")

"You don't kick a man when he's down." (ENT: "Judgment")

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." (TOS: "Friday's Child"; VOY: "Warhead")

Claimed to be Russian in origin by Pavel Chekov.

"No good deed goes unpunished." (ENT: "The Andorian Incident")

"Blood is thicker than water." (VOY: "Survival Instinct")

"Even the eagle must know when to sleep." (VOY: "Resolutions")

Used among Chakotay's people.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." (DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight")

"May you live in interesting times." (VOY: "The Cloud")

This was described as "an ancient Chinese curse" by Harry Kim.

"A stranger is a friend you just haven't met yet." (VOY: "Fair Haven", "Spirit Folk")

Michael Sullivan speculated that this might be of Irish origin.

"Home is wherever you happen to be." (VOY: "Deadlock")

Attributed to Kolopak.

"The devil finds work for idle hands." (VOY: "Good Shepherd")

"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime." (ENT: "Marauders")

"In for a penny, in for a pound" (TNG: "Pen Pals"; VOY: "Rise")

"All good things must come to an end." (TNG: "All Good Things..."; DS9: "Business as Usual")

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained." (DS9: "Move Along Home")

"The early bird gets the worm." (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds")

This was transformed into "The early bird gets the gagh" by the EMH when addressing B'Elanna Torres. (VOY: "Drone")

"Best defense is a good offense." (VOY: "In the Flesh")

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." (ENT: "Cold Front")

"The proof is in the pudding." (ENT: "Rogue Planet")

"Two heads are better than one." (DS9: "Bar Association")

"The ball's in your court." (ENT: "Cease Fire")

"A hundred thousand welcomes" (VOY: "Fair Haven")

Described as an old (in the 19th century) Irish saying.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" (TNG: "Legacy")

"There's a warm wind blowing in from Minicoy" (DS9: "The Circle")

"Those who can't, coach" (DS9: "Take Me Out to the Holosuite")

"A man who's always looking over his shoulder is waiting for trouble to find him" (DS9: "Captive Pursuit")

"Time flies when you're having fun" (TNG: "We'll Always Have Paris")

"Follow your heart" (ENT: "")

"The customer's always right" (ENT: "Dead Stop")

"To beard the lion in its den" (DS9: "In the Cards")

"Time heals all wounds, but absence makes the heart grow fonder" (ENT: "These Are the Voyages...")

Various Latin phrases and Biblical allusions served a function similar to proverbs in Human society.

Additionally, a deleted scene from "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" established "the die is cast" as a mirror universe Human saying.

Jem'Hadar

"Obedience brings victory." (DS9: "Rocks and Shoals")

"Victory is life" (DS9: "by Inferno's Light")

Klingon

"Four thousand throats may be cut in one night by a running man with a knife." (TOS: "Day of the Dove")

"Only a fool fights in a burning house." (TOS: "Day of the Dove")

"Revenge is a dish that is best served cold." (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

While often associated with Star Trek, this is a real expression predating the movie. It is sometimes claimed to originate with the Pashtun people of South Asia.

"You cannot loosen a man's tongue with root beer." (DS9: "Rapture")

"Today is a good day to die"

Actually originated from the Lakotan warrior Crazy Horse.

In addition, various sayings of Kahless served a function similar to proverbs in Klingon culture.

Mikhal Traveler

"My course is as elusive as a shadow across the sky." (VOY: "Darkling")

Romulan

"Never turn your back on a Breen." (DS9: "By Inferno's Light")

In addition, a Romulan commander described the fact that Vulcans are incapable of lying as a well-known saying. (TOS: "The Enterprise Incident")

Talaxian

"Good news has no clothes." (VOY: "Lineage")

"When the road before you splits in two, take the third path." (VOY: "Author, Author")

"The dream dreams the dreamer." (VOY: "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy")

Vulcan

"Only Nixon could go to China." (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

"One man can summon the future." (ENT: "United")

Among mirror universe Vulcans, this saying was "One man cannot summon the future." (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror")

"In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace." (VOY: "Once Upon a Time")

Xindi

"It's easier to count the stars in the sky than it is for an aquatic to reach a decision." (ENT: "The Council")

"Dealing with reptilians is like bargaining with the sun. You make no progress, and you come away burned." (ENT: "Azati Prime")

"Patience is for the dead." (ENT: "Azati Prime")

Other and of unknown origin

"It's lonely at the top." - Claimed to be an Arachnian saying by Queen Arachnia.

"Stay out of harm's way." - Claimed to be a Chinese expression by Harry Kim, but disputed by Tom Paris

"Put the shoe on the right foot first, but put the left foot first into the bathtub." - quoted by Jadzia Dax while under the influence of Saltah'na energy spheres. (DS9: "Dramatis Personae")

"There's no time like the past." - In use by crews of 29th century timeships. (VOY: "Relativity")

"There's no time like the present" - In use by Starfleet's Temporal Mechanics Department in an alternative 2404. (VOY: "Endgame")

Note that given the time periods involved, these two sayings are not mutually exclusive.

"The early bird that hesitates gets wormed"

A perversion of "The Early bird gets the worm", stated by the Minosian peddler. Since he had an adaptive design and learned from each encounter, it seems that his incomplete knowledge of this proverb stemmed from his earlier encounter with the Federation starship USS Drake.

"Little birds in their nest get along" (VOY: "Real Life")

This would seem to be a 24th century variation on "Birds in their little nests agree".

"Once a thief" (DS9: "Resurrection")

On face value this might look like a Human saying, but the fact that it was quoted by a Kira, as "an old saying", without referencing Humanity, might suggest that it has come into wider use.

Comparisons

"Healthy as a Rigellian ox" (TNG: "The Schizoid Man")

"Hot as Vulcan" (TOS: "Amok Time")

"Dry as Vulcan" (VOY: "Concerning Flight")

Referring to the Italian island.

"Colder than a Breen winter" (DS9: "Crossfire")

Referring to emotional coldness.

"Blind as a stump" (TNG: "Loud As A Whisper")

"Bigger then Elvis" (DS9: "It's Only a Paper Moon")

"Rich as Rockefeller" (DS9: "It's Only a Paper Moon")

"Poor as a church mouse" (DS9: "It's Only a Paper Moon")

"Clear as Tabalian glass" (DS9: "For the Cause")

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