Proverbs, Sayings, Maxims,
of the English Language
Table of Contents
Definitions of Terms
[Etymology: from Latin] Pro (forward) + verb (word)
Evidently, a proverb is collection of words (i.e. a phrase or sentence) that has been put forth, and has become a common saying that elucidates some truth.
[Etymology: from Old English] Say (tell) + ing (gerund suffix)
Any common, colloquial expression
[Etymology: from Latin] maximum (largest)
Evidently, a maxim is a word or expression (generally the latter) that has become very "large" and well-known
[Etymology: from Latin] adage (saying)
An adage is quite similar to that of proverb, yet according to Merriam-Webster, it is often metaphorical, and illustrates some truth.
[Etymology: from French] cliché (printer's stereotype)
A saying which has become OVER-used, and is considered trite, boring, a matter of course, not worth saying.
Sayings About Education
Meaning: the more one knows, the more one can manipulate one's environment to get what one wants.
Meaning: Getting plenty of sleep (by going to bed early) certainly helps the body remain healthy. Getting up early and getting a "head-start" on one's studies or work, certainly makes wise or wealthy (respectively). But, this proverb presupposes that one does not squander one's time or money.
Meaning: this can be called an adage, because of the inherent metaphor. The metaphor is:
Mind = something that can be wasted (i.e., can be used in a frivilous and/or unworthy manner)
In fact, the mind is an abstract thing. It cannot be touched, nor heard, nor seen. It is only perceivable by the owner. Descartes's observation: "I think, therefore I am," is about the mind. Only the mind can think. Giving up one's education, is often considered to be "wasting" one's mind, or in other words: not using one's mind in a worthy manner.
Meaning: these are a metaphorical adages
- little drops, a day, bite = small increments
- making a mighty ocean, building Rome, eating an elephant = a large task
When faced with a large task, such as learning a language, one must remember that it is best to set small goals for one's self, and focus on each individual small goal and not the whole task. Thinking about the whole task, can make one overwhelmed and depressed. But focusing on small, more rapidly achievable goals makes one feel confident, and encouraged.
Classification: adage; maxim
Meaning: Two minds (working together) are better than one mind (working alone).
Sayings about Work
Meaning: it is a metonymy. "Making hay" is a task, which represents any/all tasks. "While the sun shines" means while the opportunity is there.
Meaning: A good chance (opportunity) from ONE, particular person or company will come to you only once. If you pass it up, you will never get a chance with that person or company ever again.
[This a kind of personification]
1. "Back" means return to ((sth)).
2. "old" means something that one has known for a long time. It doesn't necessarily mean that the thing is old.
3. "a grind stone" is used for sharpening knives (and other tools).
4. Working on a grind stone, sharpening knives is said to be very boring and monotonous work;
So, the saying means return to one's boring, tedious, monotonous work.
Classification: maxim/adage/possibly cliche
Meaning: This is clearly a metaphor. Time is equated with money. The idea being conveyed here is that through the consumption of time (and work), one can make money. The implication is: "don't waste time."
Meaning: Another day of work means another (some) dollar(s) in my pocket.
Meaning: by putting a penny in a savings account, you can earn a penny after many years.
Meaning: There are no short cuts in life. Hard work is what is needed to succeed.
Thomas Edison is credited with saying, "Success is 99% hard work... and only 1% genius."
Classification: proverb; adage
Meaning: Accomplish two tasks with one action.
Sayings about Play, Rest & Relaxation
Meaning: The meaning is fairly straight-forward. One must find a balance between work and play.
Meaning: This is a metaphor. "Unstringing the bow" means relax. "Snap" means go insane.
Sayings about Love and Marriage
Meaning: Love is a metonymy for the person in love. It means that a person in love, is blind to the faults of the object of his/her love.
Meaning: Love is beautiful (like a rose), but love can hurt (like a rose can via thorns)
From a Neil Young Song
Meaning: Because love tends to be blind, one should open BOTH eyes to the faults of one's fiance; and, after marriage, one should close one eye (and forgive) half of the faults of one's spouse.
Classification: less well-known saying
Meaning: Sometimes although two people love each other, they cannot be together for one reason or another, usually, because of irreconcilable differences.
Meaning: This is a metaphor. A "tango" is a kind of dance. It is a dance that requires two people, and each person must do his/her part. Otherwise, there can be no "tango". So, the meaning of the metaphor is that it takes two people, each doing his/her part, to make a relationship work out.
Sayings about Fighting
Meaning: "names" means derogatory words, such as: "stupid", "idiot", "moron", "four-eyes", etc.
This is taught to children so that they do not worry or fight when called "names" by others.
Meaning: the meaning is self-evident, is it not?
Classification: proverb, maxim
Meaning: in any dispute, there are always two sides (points of view). The truth often lies somewhere in between.
Meaning: It is said that words can "cut" into one's "heart". The Heart is a metonymy for the feelings/emotions that one feels. "Cut is also a metonymy meaning to injur or cause pain, in this case, mental anguish.
Meaning: The meaning is self-evident, I believe.
From the Bible (Proverbs 15:1)
Classification: Maxim, Cliché
This is commonly used by teachers and parents to teach children not to fight.
Meaning: "Beget", means "Give birth
to...". So, the adage means that violence initiates or provokes
Sayings about Life & Death
Meaning: The meaning is that since we only live once, we ought to live life to the fullest.
Meaning: "When you go", means: 'when you die'. "It" means: material possessions. The implication is that one should not place too much importance upon material possessions.
Meaning: meaning is self-evident (whether you agree or not is a different story)
Classification: not really a proverb... it's a quotation from my favorite book/movie: The Princess Bride.
Meaning: life is terrible. And, then, to make matters worse, you have to die.
Meaning: there are two things that everyone must endure: death and taxes.
*To see more idiomatic expressions and slang regarding death, click here
Sayings / Idioms about Cats
Meaning: Cats can have nine near-death experiences before they actually "kick the bucket" (for meaning of "kick the bucket" see slang page / death section).
Meaning: Can't you speak?
Meaning: One can get into trouble and possibly die by giving in to curiosity.
Meaning: Allow a secret to escape from one's mouth/lips.
Meaning: There is more than one way to accomplish any given task.
Sayings / Idioms about Dogs
Meaning: Dogs are human's best friends.
Meaning: following (one's trail)
NOTE: even though dogs are human's friends, the wild dog's life is not seen as a good one. Even some tame dogs' lives are not very good. Hence there are many negative idioms regarding dogs...
Meaning: living a bad life
top dog, underdog, and other dog metaphors: click here
Simile: sick as a dog
Sayings about Chickens
Meaning: Don't "count on" something to happen before it actually happens.
Classification: saying (a question used by scientist and philosophers)
Meaning: The meaning is both literal and figurative. In the literal sense, we wonder whether nature created the chicken first, or the egg first.
In science, we are often face with a conundrum regarding a certain issue in science.
An example: I recently read an article that suggests that fatter babies are smarter.
I would ask (and any logically-minded scientist would ask): is it that the babies are smarter because they are fat, OR is it that they are fat because they are smarter?
This one is easily answered, since the brain is composed mostly of fat, it would follow that the fat one has the healthier the brain and the healthier the brain, the smarter the child.
Sayings about Home
Meaning: A smart home advisor always does his work before it is needed to be done. It's always better to be prepared as a home advisor then have to do the work after the fact.
Contrary Proverbs in English
English has some apparently contrary proverbs. I will attempt to reconcile some of them.
Books About Proverbs