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Proverb-wor­thy ma­te­rial A proverb is a sim­ple and con­crete say­ing, pop­u­larly known and re­peated, that ex­presses a truth based on com­mon sense or the prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of hu­man­ity.

When we think of proverbs we think of hoary sages, an­cient manuscripts and Ae­sop’s Fa­bles. We quote them be­cause they’re ap­pro­pri­ate even if they’re trite. There’s one for al­most ev­ery con­ceiv­able oc­ca­sion.

Does this mean ev­ery­thing that needs to be said al­ready has been? Not at all. You’d be sur­prised at the num­ber of proverbs that are more re­cent – at least from the 20th cen­tury on­wards – but hav­ing said that, be pre­pared to ac­cept that the say­ings of fa­mous peo­ple can be­come proverbs; af­ter all, any proverb started out as a quo­ta­tion.

Of course, the con­verse is not true: any quo­ta­tion can­not be­come a proverb. It’s a long shot to as­sume, for in­stance, thatMae West’s “Come up and see me some­time” or Grou­cho Marx’s “I refuse to be­long to any club that will have me as amem­ber” will ever find a place in any book of proverbs.

On the other hand, a hand­ful of lu­mi­nar­ies like Edi­son, Ein­stein and Churchill have pro­vided us with more than their share of pithy max­ims. Edi­son’s “Ge­nius is 1 per cent in­spi­ra­tion and 99 per cent per­spi­ra­tion” is well known, as is Ein­stein’s “Not ev­ery­thing that counts can be counted, and not ev­ery­thing that can be counted counts,” and, “In­tel­lec­tu­als solve prob­lems; ge­niuses pre­vent them”.

Eleanor Roo­sevelt ut­tered the in­sight­ful line, “No one can make you feel in­fe­rior with­out your con­sent” in 1960, which has be­come a mantra for psy­chol­o­gists coun­selling vic­tims of abuse.

Churchill’s quotes are le­gion, with some of the more proverb­wor­thy be­ing “A pes­simist sees the dif­fi­culty in ev­ery op­por­tu­nity; an op­ti­mist sees the op­por­tu­nity in ev­ery dif­fi­culty,” and, “To im­prove is to change; to be per­fect is to change of­ten”.

For those in­ter­ested in even newer proverbs, check out The Dic­tionary ofModern Proverbs by Charles Clay Doyle. It in­cludes such orig­i­nals as, “Ac­tion is the best an­ti­dote for worry”, “Act your age, not your IQ”, in ad­di­tion to tweaked old favourites: “Ab­sence makes the heart go wan­der”.

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