Ả Chức chàng Ngưu

Weaver girl and cowherd.

The meaning is describing the separation of husband and wife by comparing them to the Cowherd (Ngưu Lang) and the Weaver Girl (Chức Nữ). The Cowherd, symbolizing the star Altair, and the Weaver Girl, symbolizing the star Vega, were banished to opposite sides of the heavenly river (i.e., the Milky Way). Every year, they are only allowed to reunite on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar through a bridge formed by a murder of magpies (crows). This is similar to the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet.

Quá tam ba bận.

Beyond three, three times.

The meaning is not to do anything more than three times (i.e., change tactics if one fails thrice). It is a variant of “Sự bất quá tam / Nothing more than thrice.” This is contrasted with “Third time’s a charm,” “Third time lucky,” or “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” which encourages someone to try again after failing already.

Ai biết phận nấy.

Each knows one’s role.

The meaning is (i) each person minds own business and does not interfere with others and (ii) each person has own destiny and does not compare with/should not be jealous of others. A variant is “Voi biết voi, ngựa biết ngựa / Elephants know elephants, horses know horses.” This similar to “To each his own”, “Mind your own beeswax” and “March to the beat of one’s own drum.”

Chín người mười ý.

Nine persons ten opinions.

The meaning is describing having many people in charge only makes an activity more complicated. A variant is “Lắm thầy nhiều ma / A lot of exorcists many ghosts” where having many exorcists leads to many ghosts. This is equivalent to “Too many chefs spoil the broth” or “Too many generals, not enough privates.”

Hổ phụ lân nhi.

Tiger father, qilin child.

The meaning is praising father and child as extraordinary people. Tigers are symbols of strength and qilins (mythical chimera) are symbols of wisdom. This is similar to “Like father, like son,” “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” (parents being the tree and children being the apple), and “A chip off the old block” (a woodchip from a block of wood).

Ai bênh chúa nấy.

Each defends his own lord.

This is describing loyalty and how people side with their leader without regard to whether he is good or bad. It is a variant of “Chích khuyển phệ Nghiêu / Zhi’s dog barks at Emperor Yao.” Zhi is a fictional robber in Chinese literature known for evil while Emperor Yao of China is a legendary ruler known for his morality and intelligence. This is similar to “True blue” and “Unwavering loyalty.”