General Overview of Proverbs:

Image of guy talking on phone and proverb: Birds are entangled by their feet, and men by their tongues .According to Brunvand, the proverb is a "popular saying in a relatively fixed form which is, or has been, in oral circulation. Many attempts have been made to define proverbs more precisely than this, usually in terms their origin ("the wisdom of many, the wit of one"), their nature (sayings that "sum up a situation...characterize its essence"), or their function (" provide an argument for a course of action which conforms to community values")...." I find this last point--the proverb as an argument that appeals to traditional values or solutions--most interesting. If it is true, it certainly would support the hypothesis that one might learn much about a culture/people by collecting and examining its popular proverbs. In an attempt to show how prevalent and varied the use of proverbs are, I've included the following examples.


A few examples of Proverbs From Popular Literature:

Dueling Proverbs:

Often only funny after the fact, the occurrence of "dueling proverbs" during a heated argument is amusing. Note the apparent contradiction of the following proverbs. In reality, like any phrase in English, the exact meaning of the proverb is dependent on the specific circumstances of its use--people, place, context.. A good example of this problem occurs with the proverb that "A rolling stone gathers no moss." In America the proverb is generally used to suggest that one should keep moving/doing if he/she wishes to avoid stagnation. Ironically, I have read that in Scotland the proverb is used to show displeasure at a person who is too active; in England, it is often used as a positive comment about those who stay home. In both of these examples moss is seen as a worthy attribute, perhaps representing roots/tradition/comfort/friends. Anyway, note the following "dueling proverbs":

Evolution of a few Proverbs and anti-proverbs:

According to Wolfgang Mieder, quite the expert on paremiology (the study of proverbs), proverbs can evolve over time, and they do not always keep the original meaning. For example, the popular proverb that makes use of the phrase "Different strokes..." goes back quite a ways: Perhaps even more interesting is the anti-proverb phenomena. This occurs quite often, and I often find anti-proverbs on buttons or bumper stickers. Here are a couple:

Redundant Proverbs:

There are "many ways to skin a cat" or say the same thing with proverbs. For example, look at the following five ways to say "get busy.":

Formula Proverbs:

If we look carefully at proverbs we soon notice that quite a few have a particular structure--a formula. Note the common structure that follows: Proverbs of Derision
Not all proverbs are kind, and more than a few are used to attack or demean a specific group. For example: A Few Proverbs I like
Although I recognize the inherent problems with proverbs (simplicity, not applicable to all situations, can limit responses...), I still like the wit and wisdom of proverbs like the following: Metaphorical Putdowns
These comparative expressions can be quite funny or terrible--often it depends on whether you are giving or getting the comparison. If you know one you think belongs on the list, post it on the bulletin board.
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