Proverbs surround us everyday. Whether at work, school, church or during a conversation with a friend, the likelihood of hearing a proverb is high. With the influx of different cultures and traditions in the United States, it is not uncommon to come in contact with many examples of proverbs.

People who have a strong religious background might look to the Book of Proverbs in the Bible for examples of proverbs. Others might find comfort in proverbs from different cultures.

What Is a Proverb?

A proverb is most often a phrase or saying that gives advice in an obscure way. The phrase usually has an allegorical type of message behind that when first heard may seem a little odd. Usually a proverb is very well known because of its popular use in colloquial language.

Role of Proverbs in Society

Proverbs play many roles in society. The first, possibly, most common role that a proverb plays is to educate. Most often tossed around as expert advice in conversation, the innate role to educate people on what might happen if they do something.

Think of a proverb as a little tidbit of wisdom that just about everyone – no matter where they are from – can offer. There is a proverb for just about every circumstance, and proverbs can be applied to any situation.

English and American proverbs are almost second nature when delivered. The origins are quite often little known, yet the expressions are popular. Ethnic proverbs, on the other hand, may be a little deeper to digest, and require non-natives of the proverb’s country of origin, to think about the meaning in order to better understand how it applies to their lives.

Proverbs Throughout the World

African Proverbs

Across the vast continent of Africa, many African nations disseminated proverbs that were meant to educate and inspire those who used them.

Here are a few examples of African proverbs.

  • “A tree is known by its fruit” – (of Zulu origin – this means that success is shown by the deeds.)
  • “I have been bitten by a tsetse fly” – (of Tanzanian origin – this means that a person will continuously be a pest until you pay off a debt.)
  • “The word of friend makes you cry – the word of an enemy makes you laugh” – (of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – this means that a friend will tell you the truth and sometimes the truth hurts, whereas an enemy will only lead you down the wrong path by giving you advice that seems good but is not.)

Asian Proverbs

Some examples of Asian proverbs include the following:

  • “The old horse in the stable still yearns to run” – (this means that those who are older still have things they would like to accomplish.)
  • “A spark can start a fire that burns the entire prairie” – (this means that a small problem can snowball into a huge problem that can cause major damage.)
  • “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” – (this means that teaching people is better in the long run because it gives them the skills to provide for themselves as opposed to you doing things for them.)

American Proverbs

Some examples of American based proverbs include:

  • “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” – (this means that when you separate from someone that you love by putting distance between you that you will inevitably love them more and yearn to see them.)
  • “All that glitters is not gold” – (this means that just because something looks good, does not necessarily mean that it is good.)
  • “A monkey in silk is a monkey no less” – (this means that just because someone dresses fancy does not necessarily mean that they are fancy or of good character.)

English Proverbs

Some examples of English proverbs include:

  • Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
  • It’s no use locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
  • Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.
  • See a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck; see a pin and let it lie, bad luck you’ll have all day.
  • ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
  • Monday’s child is fair of face/Tuesday’s child is full of grace,/Wednesday’s child is full of woe,/Thursday’s child has far to go,/Friday’s child is loving and giving,/Saturday’s child works hard for its living/And a child that’s born on the Sabbath day/Is fair and wise and good and gay.

Proverbs from Other Countries

  • Arabic Proverb: An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
  • Finnish proverb: Even a small star shines in the darkness.
  • Italian Proverb: After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box.
  • Jewish Proverb: God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.
  • Russian Proverb: Better to stumble than make a slip of the tongue.
  • Spanish Proverb: Since we cannot get what we like, let us like what we can get.
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