Thousands of scholars throughout the world have written essays and books on the
definition of the word, proverb. Every definition is different. Some of these definitions
share certain similarities yet others are remarkably contradictory. Mr. William
Matthew was right when he said, “All maxims have their antagonist maxims; proverbs
should be sold by pairs, a single one being but a half truth.”
You can create your own meaning of a proverb based on the following list of definitions
that come from well-known institutions throughout the world as well as folkloric
resources that we came across in our research.
DEFINITIONS OFFERED BY THE MOST FAMOUS DICTIONARIES AND EUROPEAN ACADEMIES:
OXFORD: A short pithy saying in common use and organized; a concise sentence,
often metaphorical or alliterative in form, which is held to express some truth
ascertained by experience or observation and familiar to all; an adage, a wise saying.
COLLINS: A short memorable and often highly condensed saying embodying, with
bold imagery, some comparable fact of experience.
MERRIAM WEBSTER: A brief popular epigram or maxim. ▪ LAROUSSE: A proverb
defines a moral truth, expressed in few words, or a pictorial expression of a practical
philosophy, a memorable word, or even a famous verse becoming a “proverb.” ▪ ENCYCLOPEDIA
BRITANICA: A succinct and pithy saying in general use, expressing commonly held
ideas and beliefs. Proverbs are part of every spoken language and are related to
such other forms of folk literature as riddles and fables that have originated in
DICTIONNAIRE EUROPEEN DES PROVERBS ET DES LOCUTIONS: A kind of sentence,
a maxim expressed in few words that became of common usage.
ACADEMIE FRANCAISE: A proverb is a short saying that often reflects popular
advice, truth or experience that has been accepted in everyday language. Ingrained
in the culture of a certain social group, these wise expressions can originate from
an author whose thoughts are widely accepted by the community.
REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA: A witty and insightful popular expression.
WOLFANG MIEDER: A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk
which contains wisdom, truth, moral, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed
and memorable form and which is handed down from generation to generation. (Editor
in Chief of “The Dictionary of American Proverbs”)
OTHER INTERNATIONAL DEFINITIONS:
We can almost state that there are more definitions attempts than there are proverbs!
Wolfgang Mieder. . Proverbs are fragments of wisdom passed down from the ages, preserved
from shipwreck and from ruin due to their succinctness and the importance of their
Aristotle : Proverbs are sharp diamonds in the pure state, light to carry
Claude Roy : What flowers are to gardens, species to food, gems to gardeners,
and star to heaven, such are the proverbs.
Anonymous: Proverbs are common sayings.
China: Proverbs are like butterflies, some are caught, and others fly away.
Estonia, Russia, France: Proverbs are little gospels.
France/Russia/Germany : All old proverbs spread abroad. Ethiopia/Kenya •
Proverbs are the daughters of daily experience.
Hungary, Netherlands: A proverb can’t be judged.
Iceland: Proverbs cannot be bettered.
Ireland: The calf has the appearance of a bull as proverb has to form from
Israel: Proverbs are not vain words.
Poland: Proverbs are short sentences drawn from long experience.
Russia: The proverb comes from the intellect, and the intellect from the
Russia: Death and proverbs love brevity.
Rwanda, Estonia: A proverb is a halfway house to a thought.
Spain: Proverbs are often in themselves beautiful little allegories.
Spain: Proverbs are illegitimate brother of the Bible.
Spain: Proverbs are taught through experience.
Spain: Better a little proverb than books.
Sweden: Proverb says what man thinks.
Switzerland: Proverbs are “common tail’ or “common sayings.”
Switzerland: Proverbs are the echoes of the experience.
UK: Proverbs are the children of experience.
UK: Proverbs are the coins of people.
Russia: A proverb says that what man thinks.
Sweden: Time and one never tires of them.
Aristotle: A proverb has this characteristic, few words, good sense and a
Miguel de Cervantes : A proverb is shorter than a bird’s beak.
Moses Ibn Azra: Good proverbs provide us with insight, make us think, yet
are succinct, an unsigned work of art.
Israel: Brevity is what allows the proverbs to breathe and live.
Israel: A proverb is a half-way house to a thought.
- A proverb is the wisdom of many and the wit of one. John Russel
- A proverb without wisdom is like a body without a foot. Abraham Ibn Azra
- Proverbs are the literature of reason. R.W. Emerson
- Proverbs are the people’s wisdom. Russia
- Proverbs are wayside sayings. Greece
- Proverbs contradict each other. That is precisely the wisdom of a people.
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
- A short saying often contains much wisdom. Sophocles
- The wisdom of the streets lies in the proverb. Germany
- Wise men make proverbs, but fools repeat them. Samuel Palmer
- A wise man who knows proverbs reconciles difficulties. Nigeria
- If the world were governed by proverbs instead of laws, it would be a better place
to live. Spain
- There are many blunt proverbs, but they have good meanings. Estonia
- Time passes away but the proverbs remain. India
- The genius, wit, and spirit of a country are discovered in its proverbs.
- Proverbs provide us with insight, make us think, yet they are succinct.
- A wise man that knows proverbs reconciles difficulties. Nigeria
- The proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly, to the discovery of ideas of
- He, who uses proverbs, gets what he wants. Zimbabwe
- A proverb is the lamp of speech. Arabic
- A proverb is to speech what salt is to food. Ethiopia
- A proverb means that the man who has something to say will say it. Kenya
- There’s always an old proverb that says just about whatever you want it to.
- Each proverb has each own shoe. Canada
- When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. Nigeria
- When the occasion comes, the proverb comes. Nigeria
- A proverb is a horse of conversation: when the conversation lags, a proverb will
revive it. Nigeria
- Proverbs are sharp diamonds in their pure state, light to carry and resplendent.
- Proverbs in conversation, torches in darkness! Bosnia
- Whoever does not know a proverb, does not know anything. He is lost, a dead
- Proverbs are salt pits, which you may extract salt and sprinkle it when you will.
- The proverb is an ornament to language. Iran
- A proverb or a parable is the broth of speech. Nigeria
- The proverb is a prism of light whose reflections spill out in all of our discourse.
- Proverbs beautify speech. Russia
- Proverbs are meant to be experienced, not analyzed. Sri Lanka
- Proverbs are like palm oil that allows words to flow with ideas. Nigeria
- Proverbs are simple speech; each one of them is worth a large book; they last for
- The proverb is a horse of the word; when we lose the word, thanks to the proverb,
we can always find it. Nigeria
Read More About Proverbs
Proverbs/Peoples | Proverbs/Truth
Reliability of Proverbs |
Return to top