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What is the meaning of the following sentence:

будь жена хоть коза, лишь бы золотые рога

I understand all the words in the sentence, and I've roughly translated it as: "Whether a wife be a she-goat, if only the golden horn" This is a confusing and unsatisfying translation.The meaning of this sentence does not seem to be compositional, so I've come here seeking aid from a native speaker to whom this sentence is perhaps familiar.

More generally, I have a question about the use of лишь. I've read some places that лишь is not often used colloquially and is seen mostly in song lyrics. I've only seen it before in the song "В траве сидел кузнечик" in the line он съел одну лишь травку. Yandex translates лишь as 'only,' 'just,' or 'merely.' If this is so, is лишь merely synonymous with только, or does it have a different, more specific, usage?

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It is translated something like "You can have even a goat wife in case she has golden horns". It's not an "if" per se, it is sort of "in case one don't find him or herself in this situation".

Лишь is a pretty tricky word indeed. There are some subtly different meanings:

  • only, merely, just: Я горжусь лишь тем, чего достиг сам. So it is indeed to some extent synonymous to "только" but be warned, there also:
  • лишь только: as soon as. Лишь только наступил вечер, она уже уснула.
  • лишь бы: only if.

The last one is exactly your case. As of how often is is used - well, I'd say it's usage is gradually declining but it would be too radical to consider is obsolete.

  • человек спросил значение пословицы, а не дословный перевод. Вы что, выражение, например, "шило в мешке не утаишь" воспринимаете буквально? – user907860 Jan 15 '16 at 18:58
  • @user907860 автор спросил про значения слова лишь в данном контексте, а потом задал ещё несколько релевантных вопросов про это же самое слово. Но спасибо! Я сейчас добавлю пояснение - про рога действительно может быть непонятно. Но вопрос не столько значение пословицы, сколько про слово лишь. – shabunc Jan 15 '16 at 19:01
  • автор спросил What is the meaning of the following sentence, это не про значения слова лишь в данном контексте – user907860 Jan 15 '16 at 19:03
  • @user907860 я предлагаю вам воспользоваться этим случаем и оставить свой ответ ;) – shabunc Jan 15 '16 at 19:05
  • я не могу объянить полностью разницу между "только" и "лишь", а то несомненно бы написал – user907860 Jan 15 '16 at 19:06
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Лишь бы here means as long as.

The phrase means Don't care if the wife is a goat as long as she has golden horns.

  • 1
    So the idiomatic meaning could be something like: "don't consider the looks of your wife, but rather how wealthy she is" ? – студент001 Jan 15 '16 at 19:00
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    @студент001: right (except that it's sarcasm, it's usually said about a male gold digger) – Quassnoi Jan 15 '16 at 19:04
  • it does not mean Don't care if the wife is a goat as long as she has golden horns. It means "I don't care who the wife is, if she is ugly, so long, as she provides enough money/wealth etc." – user907860 Jan 15 '16 at 19:04
  • @Quassnoi can you imagine since today I was like 100% sure that it is "лишь бы у мужа не золотые рога" - always something new to learn )) – shabunc Jan 15 '16 at 19:06
  • @user907860: do you think that "goat with golden horns" in bridal context is that untranslatable? – Quassnoi Jan 15 '16 at 19:06

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