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Quotations about Proverbs


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Many of the historical proverbs have a doubtful paternity. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Quotation and Originality," Letters and Social Aims, 1876


What is all wisdom save a collection of platitudes? Take fifty of our current proverbial sayings—they are so trite, so threadbare, that we can hardly bring our lips to utter them. None the less they embody the concentrated experience of the race, and the man who orders his life according to their teaching cannot go far wrong. How easy that seems! Has any one ever done so? Never. Has any man ever attained to inner harmony by pondering the experience of others? Not since the world began! He must pass through the fire. ~Norman Douglas, South Wind, 1921


Proverbs are potted wisdom. ~Charles Buxton


We have a proverb here in Spain, in my opinion a very true one, as most proverbs are, being short sentences drawn from long and wise experience... ~Miguel de Cervantes, The Life and Exploits of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, 1605, translated from the Spanish by Charles Jarvis, 1749


A proverb tells a long story. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


In phrases as brief as a breath worldly wisdom concentrates. ~Willis Goth Regier, Quotology, 2010


Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters...
~William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, c.1598  [V, 1, Leonato]


For I am proverb'd with a grandsire phrase... ~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, c.1594  [I, 4, Romeo]


The best aphorisms are.... portable wisdom, the quintessential extracts of thought and feeling. They furnish the largest amount of intellectual stimulus and nutriment in the smallest compass. About every weak point in human nature, or vicious spot in human life, there is deposited a crystallization of warning and protective proverbs. ~William Rounseville Alger, "The Utility and the Futility of Aphorisms," The Atlantic Monthly, February 1863


It is the habit of the mind to condense into diminutive, agreeable and striking forms the results of experience and observation in all the departments of life. As the carbon, disengaged by fire in its multitudinous offices, crystallizes into a diamond that flashes fire from every facet, and bears at every angle the solvent power of the mother flame; so great clouds of truth are evolved by human experience, which are crystallized at last into proverbs, that flash with the lights of history and illuminate the darkness which rests upon the track of the future. ~Timothy Titcomb (J.G. Holland), "An Exordial Essay," Gold-foil: Hammered from Popular Proverbs, 1859


The proverbs of a nation furnish the index to its spirit and the results of its civilization. ~Timothy Titcomb (J.G. Holland), "An Exordial Essay," Gold-foil: Hammered from Popular Proverbs, 1859


[T]hey are the offspring of experience... instinct with blood and breath and vitality.... They are not propositions, conceived in the understanding and addressed to life, but propositions born of life itself, and addressed to the heart. They were not conceived in the minds of the great few, but they sprang from the life of the people. ~Timothy Titcomb (J.G. Holland), "An Exordial Essay," Gold-foil: Hammered from Popular Proverbs, 1859


A single gnomic line can come to resonate with centuries of subsequent wisdom. ~Gary Saul Morson, The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture, 2011


Proverbs were bright shafts in the Greek and Latin quivers... ~Isaac D'Israeli, "The Philosophy of Proverbs," Curiosities of Literature, 1893


It is well known that many of our novelties were in use by our ancestors! In the history of the human mind there is, indeed, a sort of antique furniture which I collect, not merely from their antiquity, but for the sound condition in which I still find them, and the compactness which they still show. Centuries have not worm-eaten their solidity, and the utility and delightfulness which they still afford make them look as fresh and as ingenious as any of our patent inventions... [P]roverbs... these neglected fragments of wisdom, which exist among all nations, still offer many interesting objects for the studies of the philosopher and the historian; and for men of the world still open an extensive school of human life and manners. ~Isaac D'Israeli, "The Philosophy of Proverbs," A Second Series of Curiosities of Literature, 1824


There is hardly a mistake which in the course of our lives we have committed, but some proverb, had we known and attended to its lesson, might have saved us from it. ~Richard Chenevix Trench, Proverbs and Their Lessons, 1905


Language would be tolerable without spicy, epigrammatic sayings, and life could no doubt be carried on by means of plain language wholly bereft of ornament. But if we wish to relish language, if we wish to give it point and piquancy, and if we want to drive home a truth, to whip up the flagging attention of our listener, to point a moral or adorn a tale, we must flavour our speech with proverbs. ~John Christian, "Introduction," Behar Proverbs, 1891


Proverbs accordingly are somewhat analogous to those medical Formulas which, being in frequent use, are kept ready-made-up in the chemists' shops, and which often save the framing of a distinct Prescription. ~Richard Whately, Elements of Rhetoric


I said that I loved the wise proverb,
      Brief, simple and deep:
For it I'd exchange the great poem
      That sends us to sleep.
~Barry Cornwall (Bryan Waller Procter, 1787–1874), "Proverbial Philosophy," Dramatic Scenes, with Other Poems, Now First Printed, 1857


Who knows but that all the men to whom reference has been made, and a multitude of others who lived in by-gone ages borrowed their wise sayings from the talk of the firesides and the conversations of the market places; so that the origin of many proverbs now flippantly quoted in the converse of men is lost in the mists of forgotten centuries. ~Dwight Edwards Marvin, The Antiquity of Proverbs, 1922


It's a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water. ~Franklin P. Jones


Gnomic wisdom, however, is notoriously polychrome, and proverbs depend for their truth entirely on the occasion they are applied to. Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it... ~George Santayana, "Chapter VIII: Prerational Morality," The Life of Reason: Volume Five, Reason in Science, 1906


The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. ~Niels Bohr


When two seemingly conflicting thoughts have made it to proverb or aphorism status, usually, in the ambivalence of life, both are true. ~Robert Irvine Fitzhenry (1918–2008), The Harper Book of Quotations


The truest sayings are paradoxical. ~Laozi, as quoted in The Wisdom of the East: The Sayings of Lao Tzŭ, translated from the Chinese by Lionel Giles, 1904


They never get ahead an inch, because they are always hugging some coward maxim, which they can only interpret literally.... Of what use is it "to be sawing about a set of maxims to which there is a complete set of antagonist maxims"? Proverbs, it has been well said, should be sold in pairs, a single one being but a half-truth. ~William Mathews, "Decision," Getting On In The World; Or, Hints on Success in Life, 1873


Do not shun this maxim because it is common-place. On the contrary, take the closest heed of what observant men, who would probably like to show originality, are yet constrained to repeat. Therein lies the marrow of the wisdom of the world. ~Arthur Helps, "Chapter IV," Companions of My Solitude, 1851


[A]lthough Solomon made a book of proverbs, a book of proverbs never made a Solomon. ~"When I Was in the Legion: A Memoir of Military Life," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, April 1841


The wise men of old have sent most of their morality down the stream of time in the light skiff of apothegm or epigram; and the proverbs of nations, which embody the commonsense of nations, have the brisk concussion of the most sparkling wit. ~Edwin P. Whipple, lecture delivered before the Boston Mercantile Library Association, December 1845


A proverb is much light condensed in one flash. ~Charles Simmons


"Now, Mr Æsop, as you know so much, please tell us what a proverb is?"
"Ah!" replied Mr Æsop, "I don't make proverbs. There are too many already, but a proverb usually seems to me to be something you always theoretically remember to practically forget."
~S.J. Adair Fitz-Gerald (1859–1925), The Zankiwank & The Bletherwitch, 1896


He repeated to himself an old French proverb that he had made up that morning. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), quoted by Edmund Wilson in The Crack-Up, 1945


It's an old proverb I just made up. ~Criminal Minds, "Internal Affairs" [S11, E9, 2015] written by Sharon Lee Watson, spoken by the character David Rossi


It hardly needs explaining at length, I think, how much authority or beauty is added to style by the timely use of proverbs. In the first place who does not see what dignity they confer on style by their antiquity alone?... And so to interweave adages deftly and appropriately is to make the language as a whole glitter with sparkles from Antiquity, please us with the colours of the art of rhetoric, gleam with jewel-like words of wisdom, and charm us with titbits of wit and humour. ~Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536), Adages


[G]enerally a fable is a proverb put into action... ~"Proverbs," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, October 1860


Attend to me, Sancho, I do not say a proverb is amiss when aptly and seasonably applied; but to be for ever discharging them, right or wrong, hit or miss, renders conversation insipid and vulgar. ~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote de la Mancha, translated from Spanish


A good proverb, like a pinch of snuff, tickles the mind into a sneeze. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


What flowers are to gardens, spices to food, gems to a garment, and stars to heaven; such are proverbs interwoven in speech. ~Hebrew proverb


A proverb is to speech what salt is to food. ~Arabic proverb


The healthiest herbs in literature are prov‑erbs. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897


Nibble at proverbs, the cheese of literature. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897


Proverbs are the literature of reason. ~French proverb


Don't quote your proverb till you bring your ship into port. ~Gaelic proverb


Good sayings are like pearls strung together. ~Chinese proverb


Proverbs are the daughters of daily experience. ~Dutch proverb  [Quoted in P.J. Harrebomée, Spreekwoordenboek der Nederlandsche taal, c.1853, and in English: Henry G. Bohn, A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs comprising French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish, with English Translations, 1857. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Proverbs are the lamps to words. ~Arabian proverb


Every proverb speaketh sooth;
Dreams and omens mask the truth.
~Welsh proverb, quoted in British Reason in English Rhyme by Henry Halford Vaughan, 1889


Proverbs bear age and he who should do well may view himself in them as in a looking-glass. ~Italian proverb


The common sayings of the multitude are too true to be laughed at. ~Welsh proverb


A man's life is often builded on a proverb. ~Hebrew proverb


A proverb is an ornament to language. ~Persian proverb


The fox has a hundred proverbs; ninety-nine are about poultry. ~Osmanli proverb


The maxims of men disclose their hearts. ~French proverb


As the country so the proverb. ~German proverb


The common people of all countries have usually a stock of proverbial wisdom in current circulation, embodying, in a curt and pithy manner, the beliefs and convictions, the manners and morals, and sometimes the prejudices and follies, of those who adopt them. Generally speaking, however, the morality of proverbs is unexceptionable; and that they are, for the most part, founded on a genuine experience of life, is attested by the fact, that the best proverbs are common to nearly all countries. ~"French Proverbs," Eliza Cook's Journal, 1853 May 28th


Besides, it happens (how, I cannot tell) that an idea launched like a javelin in proverbial form strikes with sharper point on the hearer's mind and leaves implanted barbs for meditation... ~Desiderius Erasmus, Adages


A wise man who knows proverbs reconciles difficulties. ~Yoruba Proverb, quoted in Curiosities in Proverbs: A Collection of Unusual Adages, Maxims, Aphorisms, Phrases and Other Popular Dicta from Many Lands by Dwight Edwards Marvin, 1916


Proverbs are the echoes of experience. ~Charles Irenée Castel (l'Abbé de Saint Pierre) (1658–1743)


Proverbs embrace the wide sphere of human existence, they take all the colours of life, they are often exquisite strokes of genius, they delight by their airy sarcasm or their caustic satire, the luxuriance of their humour, the playfulness of their turn, and even by the elegance of their imagery, and the tenderness of their sentiment. They give a deep insight into domestic life, and open for us the heart of man, in all the various states which he may occupy—a frequent review of Proverbs should enter into our readings; and although they are no longer the ornaments of conversation, they have not ceased to be the treasures of Thought! ~Isaac D'Israeli, "The Philosophy of Proverbs," Curiosities of Literature: Volume V


Proverbs are in the world of thought what gold coin is in the world of business—great value in small compass, and equally current among all people. Sometimes the proverb may be false, the coin counterfeit, but in both cases the false proves the value of the true. ~Attributed to D. March in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern, 1908


In ancient days, tradition says,
When knowledge was much stinted—
When few could teach and fewer preach,
And books were not yet printed—
What wise men thought, by prudence taught,
They pithily expounded;
And proverbs sage, from age to age,
In every mouth abounded.
O Blessings on the men of yore,
Whom wisdom thus augmented,
And left a store of easy lore
For human use invented.
~Blackwood's Magazine, 1864, as quoted in Dwight Edwards Marvin, Curiosities in Proverbs: A Collection of Unusual Adages, Maxims, Aphorisms, Phrases and Other Popular Dicta from Many Lands, 1916


Modern paremiology is an absolutely open-ended phenomenon with many new challenges lying ahead. There is no doubt that proverbs, those old gems of generationally-tested wisdom, help us in our everyday life and communication to cope with the complexities of the modern human condition. The traditional proverbs and their value system give us some basic structure, and if their worldview does not fit a particular situation, they are quickly changed into revealing and liberating anti-proverbs. And there are, of course, the new proverbs of our time, such as «Different strokes for different folks», that express a liberated worldview. Proverbs don't always have to be didactic and prescriptive; they can also be full of satire, irony, and humor. As such, the thousands of proverbs that make up the stock of proverbial wisdom of all cultures represent not a universally valid but certainly a pragmatically useful treasure. In retrospect, paremiologists have amassed a truly impressive body of proverb scholarship upon which prospective paremiology can build in good faith. Modern theoretical and empirical paremiology will doubtlessly lead to new insights about human behavior and communication, and by comparing these research results on an international basis, paremiologists might add their bit to a humane and enlightened world order based on experienced wisdom. ~Wolfgang Mieder (b.1944), “Modern Paremiology in Retrospect and Prospect,” in Paremia [The First Spanish Journal on Proverbs], número 6, 1997


Nevertheless, a maxim does not necessarily become a proverb. Many grubs never grow to butterflies; and a maxim is only a proverb in its caterpillar stage—a candidate for a wider sphere and longer flight than most are destined to attain. ~"Proverbs Secular and Sacred," The North British Review, February 1858


As proverbs are meant to be portable, it is essential that they should be packed up in few words... ~"Proverbs Secular and Sacred," The North British Review, February 1858


A proverb is an exploding atom of wisdom. ~Gaston Kaboré


Of course, talking only in proverbs would be impossible. Proverbs are full of poetry and twists. They are made up of words that have been molded for centuries, if not milleniums, until a minimum of words carry an extraordinary potential for meaning. ~Gaston Kaboré


Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced—even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it. ~John Keats, letter to George and Georgiana Keats, February 24, 1819


One man's wit, and all men's wisdom. ~John Russell, definition of a proverb


The chief ingredients which go to make a true proverb are: sense, shortness, and salt. ~James Howell, Paroimiografia, 1659


Platitude. An idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true. ~H.L. Mencken, "The Jazz Webster," A Book of Burlesques, 1920


But proverbs are always platitudes until you have personally experienced the truth of them. ~Aldous Huxley, Jesting Pilate: The Diary of a Journey, 1926


Proverbs generalize the verdicts of the world. ~Terri Guillemets


They are the abridgments of wisdom. ~Sumner Ellis, Hints on Preaching: A Cloud of Witnesses, 1879


The apothegm is the most portable form of Truth.... It is thus that the proverb answers where the sermon fails, as a well-charged pistol will do more execution than a whole barrel of gunpowder idly expended in the air. ~William Gilmore Simms, Egeria: Or, Voices of Thought and Counsel for the Woods and Wayside, 1853



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