Jan 28, 2021
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The meaning of the proverb “The eyes are afraid, but the hands are doing”

How many times have you said this phrase when returning to your workplace after the New Year holidays? To be honest, getting down to business is not always easy, especially if there is no end in sight!

However, the Russian people have never been inclined to procrastination and have added a motivating proverb “The eyes are afraid, but the hands are doing”… Let’s talk about her.

The meaning of the proverb

This expression comes to mind when they say that the task must be completed at any cost. There is a lot of work, but it cannot be postponed. On the contrary, you must start immediately!

The proverb is appropriate in the case when it is necessary to do a general cleaning in a house that has not known master’s care for a long time. It is easy to imagine that Hercules, before clearing the Augean stables, would say something like this.

Another example: exam preparation. The student enjoyed life all semester, and now, in a few days, he is trying to memorize all the dates and events of world history.

The eyes are not only afraid, but also terrified, and the hands (or rather, in our case, the brains) still do their job, convulsively swallowing information. There is simply no other way out.

The origin of the proverb

It is difficult to compile a reliable pedigree for this proverb. Its source is supposedly the everyday experience of the people.

The metaphoricity of expression is based on metonymy – a means of artistic expression that names a part instead of a whole. The eyes are the organ of perception.

This image shows how we see reality. Hands are a “working tool”. A specific action is always associated with hands. Antonymy, characteristic of many Russian proverbs, manifests itself in the opposition of thought to action, impression – reaction to it.

The language clearly and concisely formulates a completely sensible advice: work, act, no matter how scary you are.


In Russian, the proverb “The eyes are afraid, but the hands are doing” has several synonyms:

  • It is not the gods who burn the pots (One has only to start – and everything will work out);
  • Patience and a little effort;
  • Dashing trouble began (It’s always hard to start).

The British use the equivalents “Any business, before it becomes easy, is difficult” and “Put one foot, then the other” (That is, do it step by step – and the process will get better).

The hardworking Russian people are used to hard work. The main thing is not to give in to difficulties and remember that they are all surmountable!

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