Posted by: Jack Henry | May 16, 2023

Editor’s Corner: Return to literary terms – Proverb

Today’s literary term is proverb. As you will see, it is defined using some of the terms we’ve already discussed in past weeks. Merriam-Webster says a proverb is a brief popular epigram or maxim, also called an adage. Again, we have some crossover. Literary Terms provides this additional information.

A proverb is a short saying or piece of folk wisdom that emerges from the general culture rather than being written by a single, individual author. Proverbs often use metaphors or creative imagery to express a broader truth.

And a little more, from

Proverbs and idioms are similar and easily confused with one another. Both are forms of expression that are natural to groups of people and are short and pithy, and both are very challenging for English language learners to understand because they include innate meaning that isn’t always discernible just by reading the words.

But they do have a few key differences. Idioms express an idea or thought and are phrases that contain a group of words that typically wouldn’t make sense together (e.g., it’s raining cats and dogs, pulling someone’s leg, by the skin of your teeth). They are also frequently used in poetry. Proverbs have a literal meaning and tend to express a truth or dispense advice such as actions speak louder than words; all’s well that ends well; a leopard never changes its spots.

For fun, I’m giving you a few proverbs from languages besides English, from ESLGrammar:

§ “To make the tea cloudy” – Japanese proverb

It means to be evasive or non-committal about something, it comes from a Japanese wedding and tea rituals.

§ “A drink precedes a story” – Irish proverb

When a man is inebriated, they are more likely to tell the stories or occurrences that they normally wouldn’t if they were sober.

§ “He who buys what he does not need, steals from himself.” – Swedish proverb

A person should spend only on essential or necessary items and avoid frivolous expenses.

§ “An axe forgets what the tree remembers.” – African proverb

It is easy for someone who is hurting another person to forget the wrong and move on but the person who was hurt never forgets.

§ “The eyes believe themselves, the ears believe other people.” – German proverb

Do not believe everything that everyone says to you, trust your own judgement or wait to see something with your own eyes before believing someone.

§ “A clear conscience is a soft pillow.” – French proverb

If a person is guilty of some wrongdoing, their guilty conscience will let them have no rest, while an innocent person will be peaceful and calm.

§ “To call a man a thief gives him the right to be one.” – Old Arabic proverb

Treating someone in an unfair or cruel way will ensure a similar behavior from them in the future.

§ “Opportunity knocks only once.” – Spanish proverb

Always seize an opportunity when it comes your way as you may not get another chance at it.

§ “Your elbow is close but you can’t bite it.” – Russian proverb

A way to express when someone is physically present but emotionally distant or when something can be seen but is just beyond your reach.

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

Editor’s Corner Archives:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: