Still Waters Run Deep Multilingually

Procrastinating again, I decided to try finishing the Assimil: German with Ease, where I reached the final week. And so, I stumbled on the title of the ninety-first lesson and since I have some personal attitudes to the topic, I found myself in a while searching for some more parallels. Here’re the results:

  1. Stille Wasser sind tief. / Stille Wasser grunden tief.
  2. Still waters run deep.
    Beware of a silent dog and still water.
    Where the river is deepest it makes least noise.
    The still sow eats all the draff.
  3. Stille vann har dypest grunn.
  4. Tylióji/ramì kiaũlė gìlią šãknį knìsa.
  5. Тихите води са най-дълбоки.
  6. В ти́хом óмуте/болóте чéрти вóдятся.
  7. У ти́хому болóті чóрти плóдяться.
    Не тóго собáки бíйся, що гóлосно гавкає, а тóго, що тихо підходи́ть.
    От тиха все лихо. / З тихеньких все лихо встає.
    Тиха вода греблю рве.
    Тиха вода береги ломит.
    (Глибока вода не каламутиться.)
  8. Cicha woda brzegi rwie.
  9. Τα σιγανά ποταμάκια να φοβάσαι.
  10.  L’acqua cheta rovina i ponti.
  11. Águas paradas são profundas.
  12. Il faut se méfier de l’eau qui dort.
    Il n’est pire eau que l’eau qui dort.
  13. מים שקטים חודרים עמוק
    mayim shaktim khodrim amok.
  14. Durgun sular derinden akar.
    Derin su yavaş akar.
  15. Ang tubig na tahimik ay malalim ngunit ang tubig na maingay ay mababaw.


The second German saying (1) has is exactly as the first English one. There’re several more synonyms in English which are listed in (2). The Norwegian variant (3) goes like ‘still water has a deep bottom‘, close to the second German option. The Lithuanian one (4) is quite interesting, saying something like „the silent/still swine [while] biting nuzzles the root“ [later update: there is a similar idiom in Irish, see here.] In Bulgarian (5) one says that „the still waters are the deepest ones“ thus being very close to the first German version (and then, quite by chance, I found that someone in the web had said, that, nevertheless, they are but the most easy ones to be swum through). And now we go eastern, in the misty planes and swamps! In Russian (6) „devils/ evil spirits are lead in the silent swamp„. Almost the same is the first saying in Ukrainian (7), while the second one tell us not to be afraid of the dog which barks loudly but of the one which approaches quietly. The third Ukrainian saying warns that everything goes worse by the silent ones, or with silence. The next two are very close to each other saying that the still water tears the mill-dam (first) and breaks the shores (second). The second one has an exact parallel in Polish (8). The Ukrainian saying in brackets stays distanced from the common meaning expressed in the group, but I gave it because it’s interesting : „deep water does nor get muddy/ turbid“ – one of the few positive attitudes to the topic.  Leaving the Slavic family, in Greek (9) we find „you shall be afraid of the silent [small] rivers„. Still near around the Mediterranean, Italians (10) say that the silent water ruins the bridges. Portuguese (11) has a very close equivalent to the German, Norwegian and Bulgarian sayings, it is interesting that the adjectively used „parado“ is actually a past perfect participle of the verb parar ‘to stop’. The French elegantly say that „one has not to trust in a water, which sleeps“ or that „there’s nothing worse than a water, that sleeps“. In Hebrew (13) there’s a very close version to second German variant saying that „still waters reach deep“. In Turkish (14) the still (again,from a verb meaning ‘to stop’) waters run/ reach to the botton. The second variant is somewhat different, but very nice; it says ‘the deep water flows slowly„, which might even be somehow positive, or not at all? Last, but not least, I remembered to look for this phrase in one of the languages I have most dearest memories with, Tagalog (15); I had no idea whether I’d find something similar, due to the cultural and geographical distance, so I just tried googling a self made translation of the first part. Throughout the results, I found a fb status, starting with the sentence I quoted here, the translation would go like „the silent water is deep but/ whereas the noisy water is shallow„. It somehow brings a relative balance.

I’ll put aside the question whether people have always been afraid of the unknown and unpredictable, condensed here in the thick image of the dark river/sea/lake/swamp/ocean bottom. Silence might have been regarded as something bad in the old ‘traditional’ societies. On another occasion I would comment the painful and paludal suffocating silence surrounding the broken-hearted, the ones who think they have lost their sense of being, the hurt ones, and finally, the ones who have passed over the pathological barriers of despair to get drowned into their own still waters. Concerning that speech and communication are perhaps one of the key features of humanity, we may take a step further claiming that, therefore, silence and the lack of communication, being the opposite of thus formulated communicational human nature, are non-human or beyond/ against the limits of humanity. And in such a manner horribly frightening. We may find some traits of this opposition between the Human and non-Human in the sayings above, expressing the destructive force of the „still, deep“ waters towards the shores, the mills, the bridges (7, 8, 10). These are products, in a way, of people’s civilizational activity, or at least mark the borders in which there’s going to be order (in the particular case, the shores, figuratively keeping the water from destructing the surrounding fields and settlements). On the other hand, the unknown, the un-human rises exactly against this activity. What I find so special in these sayings, is that they combine the image of the Nature/ Chaos, as a traditional opposition of the Human activity, and the image of the human being, who has lost its human features, i.e. its ability to communicate and verbalize itself to the community, and in this way becomes an anti-civilizational figure.

Of course, what I am sharing here are merely speculations, which need an extensive reading and research in different areas like psychology, history of culture, ethnography, folklore, etc., in order to be validated. I’m sure, though, that people might have taken all these points I mentioned into account, of course, not thinking about it in the way I tried to in the lines above, but in a more visual way, probably more mythological as well. I’ll surely write more if I come across something related to this issue.

Back to Top