Speak of the devil

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"Speak of the devil" is the short form of the idiom "Speak of the devil and he doth appear" (or its alternative form "speak of the devil and he shall appear."). It is used when an object of discussion unexpectedly becomes present during the conversation. It can also be used about a topic that quickly becomes relevant, such as the onset of rain or a car breaking down. Used in this sense it can be seen as an alternative to the phrase "tempting fate".

Deriving from the Middle Ages, this proverb (which was, and to a certain extent still is, rendered as "Talk of the Devil...") was a superstitious prohibition against speaking directly of the Devil or of evil in general, which was considered to incite that party to appear, generally with unfortunate consequences. Its first printed usage in modern English can be found in Giovanni Torriano's Piazza Universale (1666), as "The English say, Talk of the Devil, and he's presently at your elbow."

The phrase lost its overt message during the 19th century, during which it became a warning against eavesdroppers ("No good of himself does a listener hear, / Speak of the devil he's sure to appear"), and by the 20th century had taken on its present meaning.

In other languages[edit]

  • Afrikaans: "Praat van die duiwel en jy trap op sy stert", which translates to "Speak of the devil and you step on his tail."
  • Albanian: "Kujto qenin e bëj gati shkopin", which translates to "Remember the dog and prepare the stick."
  • Arabic: Several, based on dialect and usage:
    • Libyan Arabic: "آحكي على القط يجيك ينط" (`ihky al ket yajek yanot), which translates to "mention the cat, and he will come jumping"
    • Saudi Arabic: "الذيب عند طاريه" (`Atheeb end tareeh), which translates to "When you mention the wolf, he comes."
    • Modern Standard Arabic: "عمرك طويل" (`Umrak ṭawīl), which translates to "A long life for you (whom we spoke of)."
    • Tunisian Arabic: "اذكر الصيد ياكلك" (odhkour essed yaklek), which translates to "Mention the lion , he eats you"
    • Algerian Arabic: "اذكر السّبع يهدف" (oudhkour esbe' yahdef), which translates to "Mention the lion and he shall appear."
    • Moroccan Arabic: "اذكر الكلب ووجد الزرواطة" (`dker lkelb o wejjed zerwata), which translates to "when you speak about dogs you better prepare a mace."
    • Egyptian Arabic:
      • "جبنا سيرة القط، جاء ينط" (Gibna sirt al-'uṭṭ, ga yanuṭṭ), which translates to "We brought up the tale of the cat, and now here he comes jumping."
      • "يا ريت قلت ميليون جنيه" (Ya reet 'ult milyōn ginieh), which translates to "I wish I had said 'a million pounds'!". May also be used jocularly or insultingly when altered to say "يا ريت قلت ربع جنيه مخروم" (Ya reet 'ult rub` gineh makhrūm), "I wish I had said 'a quarter-pound piece with a hole in it'."
    • Palestinian Arabic: "ابن الحلال" (ibin Al halal), which translates to "the offspring of good". To say that once the person was mentioned, that person showed up.
  • Azerbaijani: "Adını çək,qulağını bur", which translates to "Just have talked about him/her, and here he/she is"
  • Armenian: "Շունը յիշէ, փայտը քաշէ:", which translates to "Remember the dog, prepare the cane."
  • Bulgarian: "Говорим за вълка, а той - в кошарата", translated as "Speak of the wolf and it is in the sheep pen."
  • Catalan: "No es pot dir mal que no surti l'animal", meaning "You can't speak evil [of someone] without the animal turning up". "Parlant del dimoni, vet aquí les banyes" (Speak of the devil, here are his horns). "Parla del llop i s'et presentarà" (Speak of the wolf and it will turn up). "Parla del gos, amaneix la pedra" (Speak of the dog, get a stone ready).
  • Mandarin Chinese: 说曹操,曹操到 (pinyin: shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào), which translates as "Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives." Originally a quotation from Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
  • Cantonese Chinese:日頭唔好講人,夜晚唔好講鬼, translated as "Don't gossip other people in daytime, nor ghost at night (or they will show up)". Usually the second line is omitted in everyday speech. " 說曹操,曹操到 from Mandarin Chinese is also used, although the form is more often seen as 一講曹操,曹操就到 which translates as "The instant you speak about Cao Cao, he arrives."
  • Croatian: "Mi o vuku, a vuk na vrata", which translates to "When we talk about the wolf, he stands behind the door."
  • Czech: "My o vlku, a vlk za dveřmi", which translates to "Speak of the wolf, and he will stand just outside the door." Also "My o hovně, a hovno na botě", "Speak of the shit, and shit is on your shoes".
  • Danish: "Når man taler om solen, så skinner den", which translates to "When you speak of the sun, it shines."
  • Dutch: "Als je het over de duivel hebt, trap je op zijn staart", which translates to "If you speak of the devil, you step on his tail."
  • Esperanto: "Ne voku diablon, ĉar li povas aperi", which translates to "Don't call a devil for he might appear."[1] Alternatively, "Pri la lupo rakonto, kaj la lupo renkonte", which roughly translates to "Tell a story about the wolf, and the wolf will encounter you."[2]
  • Estonian: "Kus hundist räägid, (seal ta on)" — where you speak of the wolf, (there he is)[3][4]
  • Finnish: "Siinä paha missä mainitaan", which translates to "Evil is where it's mentioned."
  • French: "Quand on parle du loup, (on en voit sa queue)", which translates to "When one speaks of the wolf, (one sees its tail)."
  • Georgian: "ძაღლი ახსენე და ჯოხი ხელში დაიჭირეო" (dzaghli akhsene da jokhi khelshi daichireo). The literal meaning is "Mention/Name the dog and hold a stick in your hand".
  • German: "Wenn man vom Teufel spricht..." (speak of the devil) and (older and less common) "Wird der Teufel genannt, kommt er gerannt" translating "call/name the devil and he comes running", both used like the English counterpart. See also "Man darff den teuffel nicht uber die Thuer malen," which translates to "Don't paint the devil over the door," from Martin Luther (WA 18:72), 1525 (see the Hungarian below for comparison). Also, "man soll den Teufel nicht an die Wand malen" (Don't paint the devil on the wall), usage and meaning are the same.
  • Greek: "Κατά φωνή κι ο γάιδαρος" (Katá foní ki o gáidaros), usually shortened to "Κατά φωνή..." ("Katá foní..." "Speak of..."). The literal meaning is "Speak of the donkey".
  • Hebrew: "מדברים על החמור, והנה הוא בא", "M'dabrim 'al ha-khamor, ve-hinei hu ba" - "Talking about the donkey, and here it comes". Typically shortened to just "M'dabrim 'al ha-khamor..."

Also: "חבל שלא דיברנו על המשיח״ - "Too bad we weren't speaking about the messiah"

  • Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu): "Shaitan ka na'am lo, shaitan hazir" which translates to "Speak of the devil, and he will appear."
  • Hungarian: "Ne fesd az ördögöt a falra, mert megjelenik." which translates to "Don't paint the devil on the wall or he will appear." Another (older, rural) version is "Farkast emlegetnek, a kert alatt jár." which translates to "speak of a wolf, and it'll be just outside the garden." and is a derivation of the Latin proverb "Lupus in fabula" ("Wolf in the tale.").
    • However this is mostly used when talking about a possible negative outcome of an event. When talking about a person, "Emlegetett szamár..." is used, which translates to "Mentioned donkey".
  • Indonesian: "Wah, panjang umur dia" which literally translates to "Oh, long life for him/her."
  • Irish: "Tagann gach aon rud lena iomrá ach madadh rua agus marbhán" ("Everything comes when it's talked about except a fox and a corpse"), shortened to "Tagann gach aon rud lena iomrá".[5]
  • Italian: "Parli del diavolo e spuntano le corna", which translates as "Speak of the Devil and the horns will appear."
  • Japanese: "うわさをすれば影” (uwasa o sureba kage), which translates to "Gossip (about someone) and (its) shadow (appears)."
  • Kannada: "(ನಿನಗೆ) ನೂರು ವರ್ಷ" ((ninage) nūru varṣa), which translates to "May (you) live for a hundred years (healthily)".
  • Korean: "호랑이도 제 말하면 온다” (horangi do jae malhamyun onda), which translates to "Even the tiger will appear when someone speaks of it."
  • Latvian: "Kā vilku piemin, tā vilks klāt", which translates to "When you speak of the wolf, it arrives."
  • Lithuanian: "Vilką mini, vilkas čia", which translates to "When you speak of the wolf, it arrives."
  • Macedonian: "Ние за волкот, а волкот на врата" (Nie za volkot, a volkot na vrata) translated as "Speak of the wolf and the wolf is at the door."
  • Malaysian: "Panjang umur kau.." literally, "long life for you".
  • Malayalam: "നൂറ് ആയുസാണ് " ("Noor ayussaanu") literally translated to "100 years life".
  • Maltese: "Semmi x-xitan u jidhirlek" which translates to "Mention the Devil and he will appear"
  • Mongolian: "Sain hun sanaagaar hureed irlee", which translates to "A good person comes of their own volition."
  • Norwegian: "Snakker om sola, så skinner'n", which translates to "If you speak of the sun, it will shine."
  • Persian: "حلال زاده بود", "Halal zade bud", which translates to "He (or she) is a legitimate child." Or "مویش را آتش زده ام", "mooyash ra atash zade am", which translates to "I have fired his/her hair."
  • Polish: "O wilku mowa, (a wilk tuż tuż).", which translates to "Speak of the wolf (and the wolf is nearby)."
  • Portuguese: "Falando do rei de Roma," which translates to "speaking of the king of Rome", or "Falando do Diabo...(apareceu o rabo)", which translates "Speak of the devil (his tail appears)" or "Não morre mais!", which translates to "(you) Won't die anymore".
  • Portuguese (Portugal): “Fala-se no Diabo e aparece-lhe o rabo”,[6] which translates to “Speak of the Devil and his tail appears” or “Fala-se no Diabo e ele aparece”, which translates to “Speak of the Devil and he appears”.
  • Romanian: "Vorbeşti de lup şi lupul la uşă", translated as "Speak of the wolf and the wolf [is] at the door."
  • Russian: "Помяни чёрта(, он и появится)", (Pomyani chorta, on i poyavitsya) translated as "Speak of the devil (and there he is)." alternative: "Лёгок на помине", ("L'ogok na pomine") translated as "Somebody who appeared when they were mentioned".
  • Serbian: "Ми о вуку, (вук на врата)", (Mi o vuku, vuk na vrata) translated as "Speak of the wolf (and the wolf [is] at the door)."
  • Shona: Madziro ane nzeve translated as "Walls have ears."
  • Slovak: "My o vlku a vlk za dverami", translated to "Speak of the wolf and the wolf is behind the doors". The Czech version is used as well.
  • Slovenian: "Mi o volku, (volk iz gozda)", translated as "Speak of the wolf (and the wolf comes from the forest)."
  • Spanish: "Hablando del rey de Roma" (literally "Speaking of the King of Rome") is an equivalent, also an abbreviation, in this case of "Hablando del Rey de Roma, por la puerta asoma" (Speaking of the King of Rome, through the door he appears), also said in Argentina "Hablando de Roma, el burro se asoma" (literally "Speaking of Rome, the donkey appears").[7] Also, "No se va a morir pronto" ([He or she] is not going to die soon).
  • Swedish: "När man talar om trollen (så står de i farstun)", which translates to "When you speak of the trolls (they stand in the entrance hall)."
  • Tamil: "ஆயுசு நூறு" which translates to "May you live for a hundred years (healthily)".
  • Thai: "ตายยากจริง ๆ" (RTGS"Tai yak ching ching"), literally meaning "How invulnerable he/she is"; for example "ตายยากจริง ๆ. พูดถึงก็มาทันที." ("Tai yak ching ching. Phut thueng ko ma than thi."), meaning "How invulnerable he/she is. Just have talked about him/her, and here he/she is".
  • Turkish: "İti an, çomağı hazırla", which translates to "Speak of the dog, ready the stick", or "İyi insan lafının üzerine gelirmiş", which translates to "a good person shows up when you speak about them"
  • Ukrainian: "Про вовка промовка, а вовк у хату", (Pro vovka promovka, a vovk u khatu) which translates to "A word about wolf, and wolf comes to a house"
  • Urdu: "Shaitan ka naam liya or Shaitaan hazir", which translates to "take the name of Satan and Satan appears."
  • Vietnamese: "Vừa nhắc Tào Tháo, Tào Tháo tới", which translates to "Speak of Tào Tháo and he appears immediately" (An adaptation of the Chinese proverb, Tào Tháo being the Vietnamese name of Cao Cao)
  • Yiddish: "A shod m'hot nisht geredt fun moshiach" which translates to "We should have talked about the Messiah," or "A shame we weren't talking about the Messiah." Another idiom: "Az men redt fun der malech, kumt der galech", which translates to "Talk about the angel, and here comes the priest."
  • Telugu : "నూరు సంవత్సరాలు అయు: అరోగ్యం జీవింతురు గాక", which translates to "May (you) live for a hundred years (healthily)".



External links[edit]