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proverb, short statement of wisdom or advice that has passed into general use. More homely than aphorisms, proverbs generally refer to common experience and are often expressed in metaphor, alliteration, or rhyme, e.g., “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” “When the cat's away, the mice will play.” Proverbs abound in the Bible, in early Greek and Roman literature, and in the gnomic verse of the Anglo-Saxons. In medieval literature proverbs serve in homilies and exempla to drive home moral lessons and, as in the works of Chaucer, to add a humorous note. To the traditional folk sayings the Renaissance writers added the more literary proverbs from the classics; the most famous collection was Adagia by Erasmus (1500). Proverbs were extremely popular among the Elizabethans, the most famous collections being those of John Heywood (1549?) and Florio (1578). Although the popularity of proverbs declined in the 18th cent., they have become a subject for research and classification in more modern times. There is a famous collection by William Hazlitt (1869). Noted 20th-century compilations include The Book of Proverbs (1965), ed. by Paul Rosenzweig, and The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (1970), ed. by W. G. Smith and F. P. Wilson.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a short, rhythmically organized, graphic, idiomatic folk expression.

Proverbs lend themselves to polysemous use based on the principle of analogy. The statement “When wood is chopped, the chips fly” is not of interest because of its direct meaning, but because it can be applied to other, analogous situations. The subject of the utterance is considered in the light of the universally acknowledged truth expressed in the proverb, and it derives ideational and emotional substance from that universal truth. The compositional articulation of the reasoning in proverbs— often reinforced by rhythm, rhyme, assonance, and alliteration —coincides with the syntactic articulation.


Potebnia, A. A. Iz lektsii po teorii slovesnosti: basnia, poslovitsa, pogovorka. Kharkov, 1914.
Dal’, V. I. Poslovitsy russkogo naroda [4th ed.]. Moscow, 1957.
Permiakov, G. L. Ot pogovorki do skazki. Moscow, 1970.
Proverbium, Helsinki, 1965–74, nos. 1–24.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a short, memorable, and often highly condensed saying embodying, esp with bold imagery, some commonplace fact or experience
2. Ecclesiast a wise saying or admonition providing guidance
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Compiled by Moulvi Mohammad Najmuddin Dehlvi and first published from Lahore in 1876, it listed about 4,000 Urdu proverbs. Its second edition appeared in 1888.
An additional proverb that underscores the suggestion that Chakaipa is interested in advocating for biblical morality is, "(Dai) ndakaziva haitungamiri" on pages 72 and 87 that echoes and alludes to different biblical motifs.
Each Setswana and European proverb stands on its own and is listed without explanation about social, communicative applicability and/or guidance on its actual use.
One user wrote, "She saw it in a fortune cookie at Panda Express," while another said, "It makes sense, but I still don't know which proverb it is," Australian news organization ( SBS reported.
In the preface to the book, Muhammad Ziauddin says the proverbs have been presented under 660 captions.
Cat has negative representation in the proverb (7G).
Click on the audio links below this article to listen to the pronunciation of eaach proverb, as spoken by voice artist Stephan Kaiser.
Interestingly, if we try, for example, to find the equivalent of this proverb in a dictionary of Japanese proverbs and sayings, we'll not be able to find it.
In addition to drawing parallels between this proverb and others pertaining to bravery, as provided by Klaeber and Tolkien, we might also compare the proverb with those that discuss individuals who are faege or unfaege.
(Proverbs 25:11-13 NKJV) A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9).
I learned while in sermon prep in this passage from Proverbs, that Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic which sequentially incorporates the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.