Friday, June 8, 2012

Proverbs- my observations

We all know some proverb that occasionally exits our mouths.  They are passed down from generation to generation until we can't begin to examine where they come from.  A few days ago, I saw someone claim that they are lessons from our ancestors, which may be true, but I also find it a little disturbing, too.

A favorite proverb in my family, for generations is: Don't sing at the table or you'll cry before you go to bed.  It's a little weird and bit scary.  It's also been trotted out at supper since at least my great grandmother's time.  We also for three generations have lived in fear of the "back handed wrap around the doorknob"; which no one has ever witnessed, but which still makes the kids pause and think before they do one more naughty thing.

Some proverbs have a very easy to grasp message ("God is good, but never dance in a small boat", or "If you lie down with the dogs, you'll rise with fleas").  Others are little less clear ("We have a fine day more than a kiln-cast"; "A handstaff of holly, a buailtin of hazel,a single sheaf and a clean floor").  Still others are in the process of losing their meaning as the world changes and old ideas and practices die ("All is grist that comes to the mill" or the reasoning behind "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth").  Proverbs are also very easy to toss out into a conversation without really listening to what's been said; they're ready made and don't require us to examine the subtleties of a situation.  They perpetuate the established order of things with the weight of their age. There very existence is to make sense of the world without too much thought.

I like to collect proverbs, even more so, I like to read about how people interpret them.  I, like many people repeat them.  They are a piece of our heritage, both personally and as a society, but they can also be used as a way to not really take part in a conversation.  So, be careful when you pull out your proverbs lest you get into trouble with them, or find that you have no idea what they mean (my kids like to ask what they mean, which sometimes leaves me stumped).


  1. Proverbs were/are a way to reveal and even enforce a shared or collective way of thinking. It seems to me that younger generations don't use them as much or immediately challenge them, which reflects how much more individualistic we've become.

    I've also taken many writing classes and instructors have pointed out to me that I use cliches and proverbs to avoid saying what I think. Something to mull over.

    Still, I have a favorite current proverb: don't write any checks your ass can't cash, i.e., don't make promises you can't or have no intention of keeping. For some reason broken promises really annoy me.

    1. Getting proverbs and cliches out of your writing is very difficult, especially if you don't feel secure enough to just come out and say what you think. Good luck! I like the checks and asses proverb, too.

  2. There is one proverb that comes back to me time and time again, and it's the only one I know well: "Remember the Golden Rule: those with the gold make the rules."

    With enough money, you can buy influence, fame (or infamy), escape justice, make laws, or push others out of an otherwise fair market on sheer buying power alone.

    Case in point: Metallica was scheduled with a recording studio and blocked it from anyone else's use for an entire year, regardless of whether or not they were actually using it at the time. Yoshiki (of X Japan, an incredibly famous Japanese band) wanted to record a few songs there while it wasn't in use because it had the best acoustics and equipment. They said no. So he bought the recording studio. Ha!

    Senators and other government officials are purchased by lobbyists all the time; it effects how the poorest people eat, how we go to school, what we learn, whether or not we go to jail (see the origins of the criminalization of marijunana).

    If you have enough money, you can do whatever you want and get away with it.

    1. I've always hated that Golden Rule, but I am familiar with it. One day, the human species will learn that uneven playing fields damage us all, but until then, we've got to fight back against it.


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