What is a Proverb?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2018
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When people mention a proverb, they usually mean one of three things:

  1. a succinct saying that conveys a basic truth about life and is in common use,
  2. a commonly referenced terse and clever bit of practical advice, or
  3. a statement of truth or advice from the Bible, including both the sayings of Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament and sayings from the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible.

The first two types are usually linked to particular cultural or ethnic groups, though there are common themes and common thoughts that are shared internationally. For example, each saying in this group is more-or-less equivalent to the others:

  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. (English)
  • Der Spatz in der Hand ist besser als die Taube auf dem Dach. (German)
  • Mas vale pàjaro en mano que ciento volando. (Spanish)
  • Un tien vaut mieux que deux tu l'auras. (French)

Because of its context, particular attention is paid by many people to any proverb found in the Bible. Here are some examples from the Book of Proverbs:

  • Wisdom is better than rubies. (Proverbs 8:11)
  • He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15)
  • A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. (Proverbs 22:1)

Here are some examples from the sayings of Jesus and his disciples that appear in the New Testament and fit the category of proverb:

  • The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)
  • Man does not live by bread alone. (Matthew 4:4)
  • If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. (Mark 3:25)

There is another group of sayings that are outliers in the world of the proverb: those linked to a single individual. There is just one example of this in the United States, and that is those recorded by Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack, using the alias Richard Saunders. Wherever these words of wisdom may have arisen, they are now indelibly linked with Franklin:

  • Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
  • Penny wise, pound foolish.
  • Make haste slowly.

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Post 4

@Comfyshoes - I know that is also true, but I have to say that my favorite proverb is,”‘What goes around, comes around.” I always live my life by this idea because I feel that if you do good deeds in life you will be rewarded and if you hurt others you will eventually be punished when you least expect it.

I always try to treat people the way I would like to be treated that way I limit the amount of conflict in my life and lead a more peaceful and happy life. I strongly believe in the law of karma and I have always witnessed examples of it since I was a child.

This proverb quote also helps to restore faith in your life when someone hurts you. You know that according to this proverb and the law of karma they will be punished for their wrong doing and you can take some comfort in that.

Post 3

@Moldova - I agree. There are famous proverbs like, “You can lead a man to water but cannot make him drink” which really reveals how it is a person’s own will that determines what action they will take in life.

You can help them and give them the right tools but if they are unmotivated they will not take any steps in the right direction. This is really frustrating especially for parents sometimes because they may think that they are offering everything possible for their children to be successful, but a certain degree of success really depends on their child's initiative and hard work.

That is something that you feel inside or you don’t. People that are passionate will

take action, but people that are not will not. It is ironic but the more you actually do for someone the less initiative they take on their own.

This can also be related to someone that is battling an addiction. You can take them to a rehab center with ongoing counseling but if they are not ready to end the habit there is nothing you can do.

Post 2

@SurfNturf - That is so true. I love the English proverbs like, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” This is so true because we often take things for granted and we forget to think about what would happen if the one thing that we relied on was gone.

It is like when you go looking for a job and think that you may have found the right opportunity, you really should consider going on more interviews because this way you will be prepared if the one opportunity that you are interested does not extend an offer.

This also rings true with investment advice. Many people have unbalanced portfolios and are actually putting their eggs in one basket

because they are putting the majority of their holdings in one sector.

People for example that put the majority of their savings in the company stock are falling into this trap because if the company goes bankrupt not only do they lose their job, but they also lose their entire life savings as well. This is a very valuable proverb that can save people a lot of grief.

Post 1

There are a lot of famous proverbs that still ring true today. For example, the proverb saying that reads, “Money is the route of all evil” has some truth to it.

There have been many relationships destroyed because the pursuit of money became more important than the relationship itself. There are many cases in which siblings bicker because they are fighting over an inheritance.

I think that the way to limit this type of destruction is to tell the family members up front what they will get as a part of their inheritance and state that if the will is contested they will not get anything at all.

They also say that many lottery winners lead destructive

lives after winning the millions because everyone is only interested in them for the money and some people that are not used to managing their money well squander it and end up even more unhappy.

There was a special on television the other day about lottery winners and the sad life that they ended up living despite their riches. Not everyone follows this path as there have been lottery winners that have acclimated to their new lifestyle well but they tended to be more modest in their approach and ended up saving a lot of their money in order to secure their future.

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