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”.