Un homme averti en vaut deux.
uh nuh maa-vair-tee ah voh duh. Click below to hear this.*
Forewarned is forearmed.
How come it takes twice as many words to say the same thing in French?
For one thing, English does a lot more with compound verbs–in this case, composed of a verb and an adverb plastered together to form a single word. Forewarned really means warned in advance. Of course, the very act of warning someone of something, by definition, implies that it is done in advance. What good is a warning in retrospect?
Arming oneself, on the other hand, doesn’t have a timetable. You can do it before or after the fact. But the English sounds good with the repetition of fore-. That’s one of the characteristics of proverbs: they often have some kind of sound device to make them easy to remember.
How about the French, then?
Literally, it means A man who has been warned is worth two men. If we accept the “fighting” premise of the English, it’s easy to see how a man who has armed himself before the attack will defend himself far better than a man who is caught by surprise. The same thing goes for avoiding a boss on a rampage, or carrying an umbrella in November.
There’s more, though. Grammatically, the French saying is structured like the English proverb A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, though the meaning is different. (That’s a story for another day.) Valoir means to be worth: one strong verb that stands alone, instead of an adjective propped up by the wishy-washy to be.
The en is necessary to clarify what there are two of: hommes, in this case. As my math teacher used to say: “Two what? Giraffes?”
And one more thing: Averti means more than warned. It also means informed, or well-informed. Does that mean that a well-informed voter’s vote counts as two? Dream on. They say things like that happen in Chicago, but the ones who vote twice here are mostly dead. Ethical people (live ones) frown on that.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: