It’s the beginning of the week, and you’re sitting in a classroom with your classmates and your teacher, who wants to get her class geared up for the exams ahead. “We need to strike while the iron is hot!” your teacher insists, slamming her fist against the table and accidentally spilling her bottle of water. “The early bird catches the worm, after all.” “It’s going to take some work, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” What is all this talk about irons, worms, and Rome? Why is she so excited, this early in the day? Surely, there’s no use for riddles this early in the week! Hasn’t anyone heard of the “Monday morning blues”? The fact is, these are not riddles or phrases but proverbs.
An English proverb is a short, succinct statement that usually offers life advice, imparts wisdom, or shares some truth. Proverbs are so common that native English speakers may use them in conversation without realising it. Proverbs can be extremely useful in imparting information in a clear yet concise manner. Just imagine instead of your teacher saying, “We will only be successful if we study hard and persevere,” she can simplify the explanation to “The early bird catches the worm.” Everyone in the class will know what she is trying to say and the message will be conveyed more effectively. Proverbs communicate an understood and accepted message in a few well-worn and well-known words.
Often, proverbs are used to drive home a point. In terms of stylistic appeal, they differ from regular forms of speech or writing because they are metaphorical or symbolic. A proverb is a short saying that gives advice or expresses truth. Proverbs aren't usually literal sayings; proverbs use figurative language to make a statement about life. There is a hidden meaning in most proverbs. Some proverbs can be reflective of a specific culture or community, though the majority transcend regional barriers and are widely embraced and often passed down through generations. Every region and every community has a different proverb that can trace back to their history. Proverbs often make use of grammatical and rhetorical devices that help make them memorable, including alliteration, rhyme, parallel structure, repetition of keywords or phrases, and strong imagery.
Some of the earliest recorded proverbs date back to the ancient Sumerians in 2000 BCE. According to an archaeological study, nearly 700 tablets containing more than 1,000 proverbs written by Sumerian scribes were discovered by researchers. When translated, the researchers were surprised at how easy it was to understand these snippets of Sumerian wisdom, showing how proverbs transcend across cultures and time.
Incorporating a proverb is your creative writing that can make your piece of writing stand out. If you start an essay about the topic-’The Benefits of Growing Up and Reading Books’, with, “Those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot read.” It is a very effective literary device to help you get an edge over others. In an essay, for example, it can be a good choice to start with a proverb that is controversial. Since the goals behind formal essay writing are objectivity and specificity, it is advised to use a prover that is fitting to the topic being spoken about rather than using one that is broad-ranged. For this very reason, including a proverb can give your argument teeth or draw in the reader to read on and be intrigued by what you have to say.
As Dr. Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Using proverbs in your speech as well as writing depicts your depth in understanding the marvellous richness of human experience. I hope that the blog has helped you gain some insight into the history and usage of proverbs along with their efficacy in written as well as spoken language.