Popular Views of the Proverb


The problem of defining a proverb appears to be as old as man’s interest in them. People who consciously used them or began to collect them in antiquity obviously needed to differentiate proverbs from other gnomic devices such as apothegms, maxims, aphorisms, quotations, etc. Not only did such great minds as Aristotle and Plato occupy themselves with the question of what constitutes a proverb, but early Greek paremiographers in particular wrestled with this seemingly insurmountable task as well. Jan Fredrik Kindstrand reviewed some of these early definition attempts in his fascinating paper on “The Greek Concept of Proverbs,”1 and Bartlett Jere Whiting had already in 1932 assembled dozens of definitions from ancient times to the modern age in his remarkable essay on “The Nature of the Proverb.”2 The last fifty years since Whiting’s detailed study have witnessed highly scholarly articles, monographs and even books which all seek to come to terms with a universal proverb definition. Scholars around the world continue to find their own so-called “working definitions,” of which some of the most recent attempts in the English language are those by Shirley Arora, Nigel Barley, Otto Blehr, Margaret Bryant, David Cram, Alan Dundes, Galit Hasan-Rokem, George Milner, Peter Seitel, etc.3 And yet, despite their erudite and important new definitions based on structural, semiotic or linguistic insights, all must eventually agree with the contention of the old master proverb scholar Archer Taylor that “an incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not.”4 The newer definitions might in fact fit those sentences which we know already to be proverbial, but, again in the words of the insightful Taylor, “no definition will enable us to identify positively a sentence as proverbial.”5 A definition cannot deal with such aspects as currency, tradition and familiarity which certainly are necessary ingredients for a true proverb.

But let us leave the world of the serious paremiologist for a moment and consider Taylor’s “maxim” of the incommunicable quality that supposedly tells us what a proverb is. What do non-specialists of proverbs think about them and what are proverbs to them? How do they in fact identify a statement as a proverb and what are the characteristic elements that comprise a proverb in their minds? In other words, what is a proverb today to the general public? In order to answer this question let us look at a sample of 55 proverb definitions which I collected from students, friends and acquaintances in the past year or so. To my knowledge nobody has ever bothered to undertake such a survey, and even though my sample is a relatively small one, it should still be able to give us a basic idea of what people today think a proverb to be. To this I will add an analysis of a number of popular articles on proverbs in magazines and newspapers which have also not been considered by proverb scholars. These essayistic treatments that appeared from 1877 to 1984 in such publications as The New York Times, Saturday Review, Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsday and others will certainly help to come to terms with a general definition of the proverb as the “folk,” and not the scholar, sees it.

Before starting this discussion, it might be wise to mention here at least some of the English proverbs which in themselves are folk definitions of a sort: “A good maxim is never out of season”; “All the good sense of the world runs into proverb”; “Proverbs are the children of experience”; “Proverbs are the wisdom of the streets”; “Nothing can beat a proverb”; “Proverbs cannot be contradicted”; “Though the old proverb be given up, it is none the less true”; “The old saying cannot be excelled”; “The wisdom of the proverb cannot be surpassed”; “Common proverb seldom lies”; “The old saying, long proved true, shall never be belied”; “Old saws speak truth”; “Every proverb is truth”; “Old proverbs are the children of truth”; “What everyone says is true”6; etc. It appears that to the mind of proverb users, i.e. the general population in all walks of life, the proverb contains a good dose of common sense, experience, wisdom and above all truth. Do such “definitions” still hold true today, or do modern adults in a technological society see proverbs in a much more critical light? Are proverbs still considered to be solid kernels of wisdom and truth, or are they laughed off as antiquated bits of moral teaching? The following 55 recent definitions of proverbs might include some surprises when one considers that they come from members of a sophisticated and highly educated society. The definitions were collected by merely asking various people to write their definition of a proverb on a piece of paper without any previous discussion of proverbs whatsoever. They represent spontaneous reactions to the simple isolated question “How would you define a proverb?” Here are the fascinating answers in alphabetical order:

  1. A proverb consists of a short sentence which contains a general piece of wisdom.
  2. A proverb contains wisdom which has been handed down from one generation to the next.
  3. A proverb describes situations which happened before and which are repeated again and again.
  4. A proverb expresses folk wisdom in formulaic, short and metaphorical language.
  5. A proverb has been passed down through many generations. It sums up, in one short phrase, a general principle or common situation, and when you say it, everyone knows exactly what you mean. It is often graphic, symbolic or rhyming, so that it is easily remembered.
  6. A proverb is a common expression whose origin is not known or has been forgotten. It expresses wisdom concerning life.
  7. A proverb is a common, repeated and generally known phrase which expresses a general idea taken to be true. It usually draws upon everyday occurrences or events in nature which are easily understood.
  8. A proverb is a commonly-known, easily understandable example of descriptive, colorful, “folksy” wisdom, which, independent of the era, carries a lesson to and conveys a philosophy of life for the common man.
  9. A proverb is a commonly-known, often-quoted, concise saying which expresses a generalization concerning some aspect of everyday existence.
  10. A proverb is a commonly used or known phrase, expressing knowledge, a conclusion or an attitude about aspects of life that are unviersally familiar to mankind.
  11. A proverb is a complete sentence which usually contains a mroal or didactic “message.”
  12. A proverb is a condensed form of age-old folk sayings and biblical teachings. The proverb attempts to teach us, via the trials and tribulations of others who were not as fortunate as we. Proverbs can be positive or negative in nature; unfortunately, far too many of them are anti-women in their conclusions.
  13. A proverb is a condensed version of basic opinions, prejudices and beliefs common to a group of people. These are usually in the form of very short, easy-to-remember sentences or phrases.
  14. A proverb is a fixed-phrase, metaphorical statement.
  15. A proverb is a fixed phrase piece of folklore consisting of a comparison or analogy, applying one set of circumstances to a different but similar situation.
  16. A proverb is a formulaic expression of a certain truth which is applicable only in a special situation. Used generally a proverb is only half a truth.
  17. A proverb is a linguistic attempt to express a general truth or wisdom in a few words.
  18. A proverb is a metaphorical statement that illustrates a lesson of behavior.
  19. A proverb is a one-sentence statement which encapsulates an element of folk wisdom; a specific reference which applies to many generalized situations or meanings.
  20. A proverb is a phrase or sentence, accepted and integrated into common verbal usage of the general population, although often regional in character, which is most likely generated by astute, humanistic, albeit didactic, assessment of the human experience, offering tidbits of wisdom applicable to these pradigms of existential encounter.
  21. A proverb is a pictorial phrase in which a message is given, many times a picture of an oft done action.
  22. A proverb is a pithy statement or comment usually involving advice or a moral.
  23. A proverb is a saying or generalization often accepted as truth; it contains words of wisdom.
  24. A proverb is a saying that is known to the public; sometimes a moral or a threat.
  25. A proverb is a saying with which people often identify because it is universal and meaningful in some way or other.
  26. A proverb is a sentence or phrase which expresses the generally accepted thought or belief of a group and which has, through use, become of a group and which has, through use, become standardized in form.
  27. A proverb is a sentence that has been developed orally and is still used by the people of a region. It has usually come about from experience and it is a statement that teaches the learning within an experience.
  28. A proverb is a short and general statement which is handed down by tradition and which changes its meaning according to the speaker and the situation.
  29. A proverb is a short and poetic statement used by the folk to express rules or wisdom concerning life.
  30. A proverb is a short, concise, colloquial saying, easily memorized, and containing traditional beliefs taken to be true.
  31. A proverb is a short, concise phrase which states a moral principle, bit of folk wisdom or similar rule by which one should live.
  32. A proverb is a short condesation of a piece of folk wisdom, formed in such a way that it will be memorable. Its main goal is thus to teach, whether it be a semi-scientific fact or a view-point.
  33. A proverb is a short expression known by many people. It usually contains a commonly held view of life.
  34. A proverb is a short phrase. It is used to convey a traditional bit of folk wisdom.
  35. A proverb is a short saying which teaches a point or establishes a cultural norm based on the tradition of the people who use it. It is generally to be understood analogically – at least I have never heard of a proverb fundamentalist.
  36. A proverb is a short sentence or phrase which capsulizes a thought about human nature, values or ideals, and is generally thought to be for instructive/exemplary purposes.
  37. A proverb is a short sentence or saying which expresses a rather simple didactic concept, and which usually implies a right as opposed to a wrong action. Proverbs are brief, often not direct (metaphoric), and a great majority of the community will be familiar with the proverb and its meaning.
  38. A proverb is a short, traditional statement which teaches or gives advice on a subject. Comparisons are often used to illustrate the point.
  39. A proverb is a small saying that describes wisdom in a way that either teaches or makes fun of it.
  40. A proverb is a statement often articulated in parallel or allegorical terms with the intent of expressing a general truth
  41. A proverb is a traditional, fixed-phrase saying,usually one sentence that expresses an opinion, often considered wisdom, on a subject or recommends a course of action.
  42. A proverb is a traditional saying or sentence which summarizes an attitude towards something or describes a certain sitation. It is an often used saying through which one learns. A “picture” or “image” accompanies, or is within the expression, which gives light to the lesson to be learned. This lesson is often referred to as a moral.
  43. A proverb is a traditional wisdom, advice or statement in a fixed phrase. It is short and precise, consists of at least two parts, and contains actor and verb.
  44. A proverb is a well known saying which belongs to folk poetry and which is used by everyone.
  45. A proverb is a well known saying without a known author, passed on from generation to generation, which gives advice, admonitions or a moral lesson – usually a few words to not more than one sentence in length and stated in a manner that is easily remembered i.e. rhyme, workable language, alliteration, analogy, etc. It is related to man as a whole and often begins with who.
  46. A proverb is a witticism which combines clarity and precision of thought with brevity and profundity of word usage. The statement generally applies to a situation which is commonly understood and appreciated by all peoples of a given culture.
  47. A proverb is an expression in colloquial or biblical terms which illustrtes a moralistic point.
  48. A proverb is an often repeated and metaphorical expression.
  49. A proverb is generally used to provide “wisdom” in a concise way. It spares the speaker of the proverb the chore of being philosophically original.
  50. A proverb is the wisdom of many, the wit of one. This is known as defining a proverb with a proverb. It doesn’t hold up too well as a definition, but it sticks in my mind.
  51. Certain principles and conditions of everyday life are expressed in proverbs, which in turn help people to understand the world and to learn from experience.
  52. In a few words proverbs explain human problems and behavior.
  53. Proverbs are general statements of truth which can apply to certain instances in a commentary fashion, and which can act as wise words for future actions.
  54. Proverbs are golden words of folk wisdom that have been treasured from generation to generation.
  55. Proverbs are short and aphoristic expressions of wisdom which reflect basic human situations and concerns.

A word analysis of these definitions results in an interesting composite of what a general definition of a proverb might look like. Taking the frequency of nouns first, the following picture emerges (the number in parentheses indicates how often a particular noun appears in the 55 definitions): wisdom (20); phrase (14); sentence, saying (13); statement (12); folk (10); situation (9); expression (7); life (6); truth, moral, people (5); generation, experience, advice, lesson, word (4); principle, analogy, belief, behavior, meaning, action (3); language, generalization, attitude, message, opinion, picture, comment, thought, comparison, tradition, rule, viewpoint (2); origin, idea, occurrence, philosophy, knowledge, conclusion, prejudice, folklore, paradigm, threat, form, norm, nature, value, ideal, image, poetry, author, admonition, rhyme, alliteration, witticism, brevity, profundity, clarity, precision, culture, condition, concern (1). From this it becomes clear that a proverb is commonly thought of as “a phrase, saying, sentence, statement or expression of the folk which contains above all wisdom, truth, morals, experience, lessons and advice concerning life and which has been handed down from generation to generation.” This composite definition basically includes all those words that appear from 4 to 20 times in the collected definitions. But since the words phrase, saying, sentence, statement and expression simply define a proverb as a basic sentence, it can certainly be stated that the shortest general definition of a proverb is simply “A proverb is wisdom expressed in a sentence.”

Looking at modifying verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the 55 definitions, the following frequency picture arises: short (18); general (14); known (10); common, teach, traditional (6); metaphorical (5); concise, fixed (4); repeated, remembered, everyday, didactic (3); handed down, formulaic, true, understandable, often quoted, universal, moralistic, colloquial, memorizable, learned, familiar, biblical, human (2); sum up, graphic, symbolic, rhyming, colorful, descriptive, old, linguistic, regional, pictorial, pithy, standardized, accepted, oral, poetic, parallel, precise, aphoristic, cultural, instructive, exemplary, small, allegorical (1). If one adds the 18 occurrences of “short” together with the 4 of “concise,” the one of “precise” and the one of “small” it is clear that 24 or almost half of the definitions stress the shortness of the proverb. Adding to this a few more of the frequent descriptive words, a composite definition could be something like “A proverb is a short, generally known sentence that expresses common, traditional and didactic views in a metaphorical and fixed form and which is easily remembered and repeated.” But again, the shortest common denominator for this group of descriptive words would simply result in the definition “A proverb is a short sentence.”

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio – Issue 9:1999 & Issue 10:1999, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

Personally I like Reynolds’s “title”-definition of his article, “A proverb in the hand is often worth a thousand words,” since it stresses the practicality of proverbs which is augmented by being able to express much in a few words. This also agrees with the popular notions of the proverb, and the fact that Reynolds refers to Nikita Krushchev as a proverb user par excellence at the beginning of his essay indicates the effectiveness of these bits of wisdom even on the international political scene. Reynolds hastens to distinguish between national and international proverbs and warns that “everyone should be leery of attempting to discover national characteristics in a nation’s proverbs,” for many proverbs that seem indigenous prove to be on closer scrutinmy “a kind of international fund of popular ideas” which “will last as long as human nature.”21 Regional, national and international politics certainly remain a vital stamping ground for the proverb, and such international figures as Lenin, Krushchev, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan knew or know how to use them for political argumentation. Even debates in the United Nations are often interspersed with proverbs which can become verbal weapons that are difficult to argue against. In such debates the proverbs take on serious meanings and are used by intelligent people to strengthen their arguments with the emotions and spice of traditional wisdom.22

Another anonymous article with the questioning title “Can Anybody Compose a Proverb?” (1961) also presented a very positive picture of proverbs to thousands of readers of The New York Times. The author studies a few old proverbs like “Know thyself,” “Festina lente, ” “Que sera, sera,” “Qui s’excuse, s’accuse” and “Vox populi, vox Dei” and emphasizes in particular the shortness of these expressions:

Many people have loved proverbs… for the wisdom embedded in them. Others have treasured proverbs for the vividness or earthiness of their imagery. But students of the subject are impressed by still another characteristic of the proverb: its verbal economy. Proverbs are rarely wordy. The usual proverb is spare and austere in expression, and some are marvels of compactness.23

Once again we have a view of proverbs in a major United States newspaper that resembles those of our composite definition at the beginning of this article. “Wisdom” and “shortness” doublessly belong to the popular notion of what makes up a proverb. Even when a scholar such as Mario Pei wrote a short piece on “Parallel Proverbs” (1964) for the Saturday Review, he basically adhered to this general view of the proverb in his article dealing with national and international proverbs, their cynicism, philosophy and humor, their obvious misogyny and their contradictory comments on life’s experiences around the world:

Proverbs are among the most ancient of human institutions. Criticism of life, in brief and pithy form, is characteristic of proverbs, while their popular philosophy is, ideed, proverbial. “Proverbs are the wisdom of peoples” goes an Italian saying. This is perhaps an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that much of a nation’s folk-philosophy gets into proverbs, along with the spice of national customs and, above all, the peculiar flavor of the nation’s language and phraseology… Proverbs are generalizations of human experience, condensations of oft-repeated occurrences of the trial-and-error variety. Above all, they are the fruit of observation and inductive reasoning, two of the great faculties of the human mind… A generalization… caught on, became popular, was passed from mouth to mouth, from generation to generation. Ultimately it became an integral part of the group’s folklore, and was repeated whenever the situation it described recurred. … Every proverb tells a story and teaches a lesson.24

This lengthy discussion of the nature of the proverb by Pei reads almost as an attempt of summarizing the common understanding of proverbs. Many of the 55 definitions stated above are similar to Pei’s points, and it is amazing to notice how congrous these definitions are to those defining attempts printed in magazines and newspapers. There certainly is much agreement in the non-scholarly world of what a proverb is even if scholars seem to be unable to agree on a reasonable definition at all.

A similar article on “The Art of Proverbs” (1965) by F. L. Lucas followed Pei’s article about a year and a half later. Here again we have a solid introductory view of the proverb written for general consumption. Lucas differentiates between proverbs and aphorisms;25 he cites many examples from various national languages; he comments on their content as well as their contradictory nature; and he points in particular to their misanthropic and misogynous nature.26 Even though Lucas states that “today proverbs appear to have lost their popularity” at the beginning of his essay, he presents argument after argument why proverbs are still useful today, for as the subtitle proclaims, proverbs are “an evaluation of the minds – wary and illusionless – that have created the world’s wisdom.” His definition attempt reads as follows:

A proverb is by definition a popular maxim… Proverbs are among the most ancient literary forms, and among the most universal… Enough if it [the proverb] holds its measure of truth… Proverbs are anonymous wisdom-literature of the common man in ages past. Yet they often bear the stamp of minds by no means common. They can throw fascinating light on human nature, on national character, on life itself. And even when we doubt their wisdom, we can still often admire their trenchancy, their brevity, their imaginative imagery. “A proverb,” says the Arab, “is to speech as salt to food.”27

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio – Issue 9:1999 & Issue 10:1999, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

Matti Kuusi once defined proverbs simply as “monumenta humana,”42 and this is exactly what they are to the general population. Our survey of 55 non-academic definitions has shown that proverbs are thought to express human wisdom and basic truths in a short sentence. Popular articles in magazines and newspapers tend to share this view of the proverb. Altogether proverbs are still seen as useful generalizations about life, even if at times their value of appropriateness in certain situations might be questioned. We can poke fun at proverbs, we can ridicule them or we can parody them, but eventually we are all governed by their insights to some degree. Proverbs and their wisdom confront us daily, and modern people seem to have a clear idea of what proverbs are, what they express and what they can do for us. Proverb scholars would do well to pay more attention to the present use of proverbs while obviously also continuing to tackle the frustrating question of whether a universal proverb definition can be found. But in their enduring search for such an erudite definition, they can take solace in the fact that the people using proverbs do know in their minds what makes a good proverb – an incommunicable quality tells them that a short and repeated statement of wisdom, truth and experience must be a proverb.


Permission to publish this article granted by Proverbium (Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder, University of Vermont, USA).
Previously published in Proverbium 2 (1985), pp. 109-143.

1See Jan Frederik Kindstrand, “The Greek Concept of Proverbs,” Eranos, 76 (1978), 71-85.

2See Bartlett Jere Whiting, “The Nature of the Proverb,” Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, 14 (1932), 273-307.

3See Shirley Aurora, “The Perception of Proverbiality,” Proverbium, 1 (1984), 1-38; Nigel Barley, “‘The Proverb’ and Related Problems of Genre Definition,” Proverbium 23, (1974), 880-884; Otto Blehr, “What is a Proverb?” Fabula, 14 (1973), 243-246; Margaret Bryant, Proverbs and How to Collect Them (Greensboro, North Carolina: American Dialect Society, 1945); David Cram, “The Linguistic Status of the Proverb,” Cahiers de Lexicologie, 43 (1983), 53-71; Allan Dundes, “On the Structure of the Proverb,” Proverbium, 25 (1975) 961-973 (also in: The Wisdom of Many. Essays on the Proverb, eds. Wolfgang Mieder and A. Dundes [New York: Garland Publishing, 1981], pp. 43-64); Galit Hasan-Rokem, Proverbs in Israeli Folk Narratives: A Structural Semantic Analysis (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1982); George Milner, “What is a Proverb?” New Society, 332 (February 6, 1969), 199-202; Peter Seitel, “Proverbs: A Social Use of Metaphor,” Genre, 2 (1969), 143-161 (also in: The Wisdom of Many, Essays on the Proverb, eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes [New York: Garland Publishing, 1981], pp. 122-139).

4Archer Taylor, The Proverb (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1931), p. 3.

5Taylor, p. 3.

6For a fair number of these proverbs about proverbs from many languages see Selwyn Gurney Champion, Racial Proverbs (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1938), pp. 3-9.

7See Anonymous, “Influence of Proverbs,” The New York Times (April 29, 1877), p. 6, cols. 5-6.

8Most major books on the proverb deal with contradictory proverbs, but see also in particular Kenneth Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living,” in K. Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form. Studies in Symbolic Action (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana University Press, 1941), pp. 253-262; Oskar Cöster, “Maulschellen für den ‘Volksmund.’ Epigramme zur Dialektik des Sprichworts,” in Projekt Deutschunterricht 12. Kommunikationsanalyse II – Sprachkritik ed. Bodo Lecke (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977), pp. 131-147; Willy Kramp, “Sind Sprichwörter wahr?” Die Furche, 23 (1937), 135-140; Wallace H. Maw and Ethel W. Maw, “Contrasting Proverbs as a Measure of Attitudes of College Students Toward Curiosity-Related Behaviors,” Psychological Reports, 37 (1975), 1085-1086; and Wolfgang Mieder, Antisprichwörter (Wiesbaden: Verlag für deutsche Sprache, 1982).

9H. G. Keene, “Conflicts of Experience, “The Living Age, 185 (May 24, 1890), 483-486 (here p. 483).

10Keene, p. 486.

11Anonymous, “Proverbs as Literature,” The Living Age, 226 (September 22, 1900), 785-787 (here p. 785).

12Vernon Rendall, “Proverbs and Popular Similes,” The Saturday Review, 148 (October 19, 1929), 443.

13See Letters to His Son by the Earl of Chesterfield, ed. Oliver H. Leigh (New York: Tudor Publishing, n.d.), p. 218 (the letter was written on October 2, 1749).

14Anonymous, “Twilight of the Proverbs,” The New York Times (May 3, 1930), p. 18, col. 6.

15See William Albig, “Proverbs and Social Control,” Sociology and Social Research, 15 (1931), 527 (the whole article on pp. 527-535).

16See for example Wolfgang Mieder, Das Sprichwort in unserer Zeit (Frauenfeld: Huber, 1975) and Deutsche Sprichwörter in Literatur, Politik, Presse und Werbung (Hamburg: Helmut Buske, 1983). See also Barbara and Wolfgang Mieder, “Tradition and Innovation: Proverbs in Advertising,” Journal of Popular Culture, 11 (1977), 308-319 (also in : The Wisdom of Many. Essays on the Proverb, eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes [New York: Garland Publishing, 1981], pp. 309-322).

17Ernest Weekley, “Proverbs Considered,” Atlantic Monthly, 145 (april 1930), 504-512 (here p. 504).

18Weekley, p. 507.

19See Scott Corbett, “Our Toothless Old Saws,” Atlantic Nonthly, 193 (March 1954), 92.

20Horace Reynolds, “A Proverb in the Hand – is often Worth a Thousand Words,” The New York Times Magazine(September 13, 1959), p. 74.

21Reynolds, p. 74.

22See for example Lt. Colonel Victor S. M. de Guinzbourg, Wit and Wisdon of the United Nations. Proverbs and Apothegms on Diplomacy (New York: Privately printed, 1961); R. D. Hogg, “Proverbs,” Secretariat News, 14 (1960), 5-7; Joseph Raymond, “Tensions in Proverbs: More Light on International Understanding,” Western Folklore, 15 (1956), 153-158 (also in: The Wisdom of Many, Essays on the Proverb, eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes [New York: Garland Publishing, 1981], pp. 300-308); L. A. Morozova, “Upotreblenie V. I. Leninym poslovits,” Russkaia Rech’, no. 2 (1979), 10-14; Edd Miller and Jesse J. Villarreal, “The Use of Clichés by Four Contemporary Speakers [Churchill, Eden, Roosevelt, Wallace],” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 31 (1945), 151-155. Concerning the perverted use of proverbs by Hitler and the National Socialists see Wolfgang Mieder, “Proverbs in Nazi germany. The Promulgation of Anti-Semitism and Stereotypes through Folklore,” Journal of American Folklore, 95 (1982), 435-464; a similar German version of this paper was published as “Sprichwörter unterm Hakenkreuz,” Muttersprache, 93 (1983), 1-30.

23Anonymous, “Can Anybody Compose a Proverb?” The New York Times (November 12, 1961), Section IV, p. 8, col. 3.

24Mario Pei, “Parallel Proverbs,” Saturday Review, 47 (May 2, 1964), 16-17 and p. 53 (here p. 16).

25See Lutz Röhrich and Wolfgang Mieder, Sprichwort (Stuttgart: Matzler, 1977), pp. 4-6. For the subgenre of the “proverbial aphorism” see Wolfgang Mieder, “Karl Kraus und der Sprichwörtliche Aphorismus,” Muttersprache, 89 (1979), 97-115 (also in: W. Mieder, Deutsche Sprichwörter in Literatur, Politik, Presse und Werbung [Hamburg: Helmut Buske, 1983], pp. 113-131); and also W. Mieder, Deutsche Sprinchwörter und Redensarten (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1979), pp. 144-152.

26See for example Richard Jente, “‘A Woman Conceals What She Knows Not,’” Modern Language Notes, 41 (1926), 253-254; Mary Ellen B. Lewis, “The Feminists Have Done it: Applied Folklore,” Journal of American Folklore, 87 (1974), 85-87; and T. F. Thiselton-Dyer, Folklore of Women (London: Elliot Stock, 1905; rpt. Williamstown, Massachusetts: Corner House, 1975).

27F. L. Lucas, “The Art of Proverbs,” Holiday, 38 (September 1965), 8 and 10-13 (here pp. 10-11).

28See for example Erich Berneker. “Das russische Volk in seinen Sprichwörtern,” Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde, 14 (1904), 75-87 and 179-191; Alan Dundes, “Slurs International: Folk Comparisons of Ethnicity and National Character,” Southern Folklore Quarterly, 39 (1975), 15-38; Alan Dundes, Life is like a Chicken Coop Ladder. A Portrait of German Culture Through Folklore (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984); Henri F. Muller, “The French Seen Through Their Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions,” French Review, 17 (1943-1944), 4-8; Joseph Raymond, Attitudes and Cultural Patterns in Spanish Proverbs (Diss. Columbia University, 1951); F. N. Robinson, “Irish Proverbs and Irish National Character,” Modern Philology, 43 (1945), 1-10 (also in: The Wisdom of Many. Essays on the Proverb, eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes [New York: Garland Publishing, 1981], pp. 284-299); Hans-Joachim Schoeps, “Völkerpsychologie im Sprichwort,” in H. J. Schoeps, Ungeflügelte Worte. Was nicht im Büchmann stehen kann (Berlin: Haude & Spener, 1971), pp. 162-171; Franz Thierfelder, “Sprichund Schlagwörter zwischen den Völkern,” Welt und Wort, 11 (1956), 369-370 and 373. Two important collections are Otto Freiherr von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld, Internationale Titulatoren, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Hermann Fries, 1863); and Abraham Roback, A Dictionary of International Slurs (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Sci-Art Publishers, 1944; rpt. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Maledicta Press, 1979).

29See Milner (note 3). A longer version of this paper in French is “De l’armature des locutions proverbiales: Essai des taxonomie sémantique,” L’Homme, 9 (1969), 49-70.

30Anonymous, “The Wild Flowers of Thought,” Time (March 14, 1969), 74-75.

31Earl Lane, “A Proverbial Quest That Intrigues Scholars,” Newsday (June 27, 1975), part II, pp. 4A-5A (here p. 5A). Lane’s article was reprinted in other newspapers in various lengths as “Probing Perennial Proverbs,” The Montreal Star (July 19, 1975), p. C1; “In the Proverbial Stew,” Boston Globe (July 6, 1975), p. B1; “The Short, Salty Proverb is a Paroemiologist’s Feast,” The Miami Herald (July 9, 1975), p. F1; “Hot on the Trail of a Proverb,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle (August 10, 1975), p. 5; “What’s the Exchange Rate on a Bird in the Hand?” The Milwaukee Journal (August 1, 1975), p. B1; etc.

32See Stuart A. Gallacher, “Frauenlob’s Bits of Wisdom: Fruits of His Environment,” in Middle Ages – Reformation – Volkskunde. Festschrift for John G. Kunstmann, no editor given (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), p. 47 (the entire article on pp. 45-58).

33Hugh Kenner, “Wisdom of the Tribe. Why Proverbs are Better than Aphorisms,” Harper’s (May 6, 1983), 84-86 (here pp. 84-85).

34Kenner, p. 86.

35Kenner, p. 86.

36For a discussion of such new proverbs see Wolfgang Mieder, “‘Eine Frau ohne Mann ist wie ein Fisch ohne Velo!’” Sprachspiegel, 38 (1982), 141-142; and Wolfgang Mieder and George Bryan, “‘Zum Tango gehören zwei,’” Der Sprachdienst, 27 (1983), 100-102.

37See Barbara and Wolfgang Mieder (note 16); Wolfgang Mieder, “Proverbial Slogans are the Name of the Game,” Kentucky Folklore Record, 24 (1978), 49-53; and Jess Nierenberg, “Proverbs in Graffiti. Taunting Traditional Wisdom,” Maledicta, 7 (1983), 41-58.

38Stefan Kanfer, “Proverbs or Aphorisms?” Time (July 11, 1983), 74.

39Kanfer, p. 74.

40See my collection of 1500 such German texts with the title Antisprichwörter (Wiesbaden: Verlag für deutsche Sprache, 1982). The second volume with 1500 additional texts will appear shortly. See also some English examples in my “A Sampler of Anglo-American Proverb Poetry,” Folklore Forum, 3 (1980), 39-53.

41Hundreds of such examples can be found in E. C. Mckenzie, Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980). The examples cited here appear on pp. 240, 344, 141, 140, 435, 467 (last two texts).

42See Matti Kuusi, Parömiologische Betrachtungen (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1957), p. 52.

Wolfgang Mieder
Department of German and Russian
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405